Heidy Salazar was at James Seta’s side when he passed away in mid-May.
Though no relation, Salazar served as Seta’s caregiver during the final months of his life at his home in San Ramón, Alajuela, northwest of San José.
“He had grown to be like a father figure to me,” Salazar said. “He lived in San Ramón for 35 years and my husband and I were his best friends. He had no family here but we considered him part of ours. Everybody in the community loved him.”
Seta, 89, was one of the 20 U.S. military veterans and American Legion members who died in the last year while living in Costa Rica. On Monday, Memorial Day in the U.S., Seta and fellow veterans were honored in a ceremony at the Campo de Esperanza Cemetery in San Antonio de Escazú, west of San José.
A crowd of 50 family members, friends and fellow U.S. military veterans gathered at the annual ceremony to pay their respects.
“They always put a dash between your birth date and your date of death. It is what you do during that dash that defines you,” said Barbara Aira, who was wearing a white T-shirt adorned with a portrait of her late husband Peter, who died last year at the age of 95. “He accomplished many things in his life, but I personally think his dash was too short.”
During the annual memorial service, members of the American Legion, headed by Commander Chuck Turner, said prayers, read military tributes and played traditional ballads like “Taps.”
Turner read the names of veterans who had lived in Costa Rica. A piece of paper with veterans’ names and service records was then passed to Chaplain John Hatcher to be burned in honor.
“Every year we honor those who risked their lives and fought for the freedom we have in the U.S.,” Turner said. “They deserve to be honored for their valiance and bravery, and for putting themselves on the line for the nation’s freedom.”
There are currently 111 American Legion members registered in Costa Rica, including 20 or more that live in other countries but still pay dues here.
As the ceremony drew to a close, the legionnaires moved the festivities to Santa Ana, west of San José, to host a large U.S.-style barbeque and cookout in the early afternoon. Some 150 people enjoyed hamburgers and hotdogs, sipped cold beers and listened to classic “Americana” hits from the 1960s and 70’s.
“He would have loved to be here,” Aira said of her late husband. “He had such a beautiful smile and vitality. He was my best friend for many years and I miss him. I’m just glad there are events like this that give me the opportunity to honor him for all that he did with his time.”
Veterans memorialized this year are: from American Legion Post CR-10 Escazú, Peter Aira, Theodore Belcoe, William Florian, Donald Huberty, Ricardo Machados and John Manley. From Post CR-16, Heredia, Carlos Vallejos.
Veterans who were not members of the Legion, Manual Antillion, James Butler, Robert Camp, Charles Duffield, Samuel Harris, Donlon Havener, Robert Hicks, Robert Lee, Carl Moat, James Robinson, José Ruiz, James Seta and James Van Osdel.