Central Texas Heroes: Manuel Sustaita

Published: Jul. 22, 2016 at 8:50 AM CDT
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If you've ever visited Waco's Vietnam Veterans Memorial you know it's a special place to reflect and remember local service members who gave their lives.

But you may not know about the people who worked to create it.

Manuel Sustaita, a Marine Corps veteran himself, worked for years to make it happen.

When Sustaita was 13 years old he bought a movie theater ticket that shaped his entire destiny.

"I had seen a movie, 'The DI' with Jack Webb," he told us.

"The DI," the drill instructor, inspired him to join the National Guard at 16 and the Marines a year later.

He went through infantry training, specialized training, and eventually became part of a reconnaissance team headed to Vietnam.

They scouted out hostile areas, assessing the enemy presence and threats before other Marines came through those locations.

And it was a dangerous job.

"There was sniper fire and we were ambushed," he said, "the main thing I remember about combat is when you feel you might not make it, it seems like your whole life goes just like a tape, tape recording."

But one attack stands out among all the others.

"The one I remember the most is when my friend, Joe Wynn, got killed. That was May 14th 1965," Sustaita told us, "me and Joe had become good friends, he's the one who helped me out when I joined that outfit and showed me the ropes."

But on that spring day Joe Wynn and the Marines he was with found themselves surrounded by enemy troops.

"Joe was a point man and he came around a bend, and he was shot in the chest," Sustaita told us.

But Sustaita didn't find out it was his friend who died until days later.

"You know people say that men don't cry," he told us, "Marines do cry."

When Sustaita got home he knew he had to visit Wynn's family in Georgia.

Sustaita said, "I felt that I needed to tell the mother and the family that Joe was a special young Marine."

Years later he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the loss hit him all at once.

He was so moved he worked with others in the community for 17 years to bring a Vietnam Memorial to Waco.

Sustaita wanted Central Texans to have a place to remember and honor loved ones who died.

"The Gold Star Mothers, and fathers too and widows and families, I'll always remember them," he said.

And he wants people who visit the memorial to think about what war really does to people's lives.

He said, "when they go to the memorial look at those names and think about those people and think about their families and think about what they might have been able to do, but always remember that they died for this country."