BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Memorial Day will be a special day to remember those honorable men and women who have lost their lives in the military serving our country.
For Enrique Castillo Jr., 31, Monday will be a day to remember his former platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Russell P. Borea.
Castillo credits Borea, then 30, for saving his life on Jan. 19, 2007, when their Humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device, or IED, in Mosul, Iraq.
“The whole incident, it started with us getting up pretty early,” Castillo said. “We were going to relieve our guys, which had been out the previous night. It was our turn to relieve them.”
“We were all pretty much on edge really because two days prior they had hit what we call a catastrophic IED, meaning that everyone was killed with an IED,” Castillo said. “It demolished a vehicle. There was really nothing left. We were pretty much on our tippy-toes because we were expecting more confrontation. And that day we were attacked. We were called out to an IED that had been planted, and we went ahead and found it.”
The IED was disarmed.
On the way back to their base, they were hit another IED, which instantly killed Borea and severely injured Castillo and two other passengers.
In the explosion, Castillo lost his right leg, above the knee, and his left leg was severely injured.
“I was conscious for the most part, up until I got to the emergency room,” Castillo said. “The last thing I remember was the doctors being around me. And when I woke up, according to them, it had been almost a day or two that I had been out.”
Castillo said that he immediately knew the injuries he had were bad, but he didn’t know the status of Sgt. Borea.
“The first question that I asked, I remember, was ‘How was (Borea)?’ And of course they said he was killed instantly. To me, that was the hardest part, losing him,” Castillo said.
Now, when Castillo looks at his prosthetic leg, he sees a reminder of Borea’s courage.
Castillo received a Purple Heart in 2007. But to him, it does not replace the loss of his friend.
“To me it was just another award. My wife is very proud of it, and she talks very highly of it, so does my mom,” Castillo said. “To me, it’s just a reminder that somebody lost their life. If I could give it back to get him then I definitely would.”
Castillo first met Borea on the Army base in Fort Benning, Georgia. Although Castillo was admittedly intimidated by Borea, he said that Borea would look out for him and the people on base.
“Once I got to know him, he really became almost like a father figure,” Castillo said.
To Castillo, Memorial Day is about not forgetting Borea and what he did to save his life.
“Remembering him, remembering who he is and not forgetting,” Castillo said. “To me, my Memorial Day is, of course, the day he passed — Jan. 19. That’s my day with him.”
Castillo said that it’s also a day to remember not only those who lost their lives, but their loving families who they left behind.
“We all get the three-day weekend and we get the sales and all this good stuff,” Castillo said. “But to me, it’s really those wives and those mothers, and with these recent wars its not just males, there are females too who have passed — so I mean their husbands their children.”
Castillo said he and his family participate in the Memorial Day Silent March — set for 10 a.m. Monday morning in Brownsville — that begins at the HEB on Central Boulevard and ends at the Veteran’s Park located next tot the Brownsville Public Library.
“Every year that I’ve been able to do the march here in Brownsville we always try to do the shirts and always try to somehow put his name on the shirt,” Castillo said. “It’s to keep his memory alive. It’s so we don’t forget that he gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Castillo still keeps in contact with Borea’s wife and daughter in Arizona.