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Santa Fe honors 99-year-old veteran, who says others deserved the accolades more

The Bastrop County Veterans Honor Guard fires the 21-gun salute at the 18th annual Memorial Day Ceremony at Bastrop's Fairview Cemetery in 2019. [TERRY HAGERTY/ FOR BASTROP ADVERTISER/TNS]

Placido Borrego knew the accolades and honors were coming, and he still felt he didn’t deserve them.

He received something akin to a ceremonial 21-gun salute as dozens of family members and friends gathered with dignitaries at City Hall to honor the 99-year-old military veteran. Wednesday was proclaimed Placido Borrego Day.

Borrego, who served in the U.S. Army in World War II and during the Korean and Vietnam wars, did what any soldier would admire under such pressure.

He held back the tears, maintained a military-like erect posture and kept the acceptance speech simple: “Thank you.”

In a brief interview following the event at City Hall, Borrego said he felt there were a lot of other military veterans “who deserve it more than me.”

Borrego’s six children, 15 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren — with one more on the way — didn’t agree. Most were in attendance and several of his kids spoke of the love and support he gave them growing up.

While he did not talk much about his military service, they said he maintained military standards — polishing his boots, keeping his hair short and making certain his pants were ironed and creased — that left an impression.

“He made sure we know the sacrifices his generation made,” said daughter Karmella Borrego.

Borrego, born in the small community of Santo Niño, was drafted into the U.S. Army late in 1943 at the age of 19, serving as an artillery gunner in the 65th Infantry Division.

Though he missed out on expected fighting in the Battle of the Bulge as the ship he was on became stuck offshore due to mines in the water and beach, he saw action thereafter, including the Allies’ pursuit of retreating Germans in 1945.

During a counterattack by the Germans, soldiers retreated near the Rhine River, where Borrego suffered injuries both from an encounter with an Army jeep and enemy shrapnel.

More horrors were to come after his unit took control of a Nazi concentration camp, where the Germans had piled bodies of dead prisoners like stacks of wood.

Though he did not see combat in either the Korean or Vietnam conflicts, Borrego, who remained in the U.S. Army Reserve, was called back to active duty during both wars to train soldiers going into combat.

He also was a member of the New Mexico National Guard when it was called to respond to the bloody 1980 riot at the Penitentiary of New Mexico south of Santa Fe, where 33 died.

He retired from military service in 1984, later working as an aerial photographer for the state as a civilian, daughter Linda Borrego said.

She said he still fishes twice a week and tends to some cattle he keeps on his place off West Alameda Street.

She and other family members said they have planned a big party Oct. 5 for Borrego for his 100th birthday.

The atmosphere at City Hall during the ceremony was akin to a party, with well-wishers surrounding Borrego and congratulating him and the little tykes of the family dashing this way and that, caught up in the excitement of the moment.

Noting the large gathering of those family members at the event, Brig. Gen. Jamison Herrera, secretary of the state Department of Veterans Services, joked to Borrego, “You now have your own battalion … a wonderful family unit.”


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