To the Editor:
The hardest thing I will do this week is to remove his name from my email and text address lists. My eyes have slid over his name five or six times since Jan. 30. I cannot quite confirm to myself the finality of his death by deleting his name.
At least seven years ago his “Letters to the Editor” of the Killeen Daily Herald started me searching for his signature: P.C. Santiago, retired master sergeant, Killeen” on the weekends “Opinion” page.
I found his writing to be clear, well-researched and fair. He wrote from a politically conservative point-of-view. I do not remember him ever attacking another writer by name. He always stuck to the issues by offering a counter opinion or a different perception.
Unknown to him at the time, he inspired my joining the ranks of opinion writers in our local newspaper.
A college professor once told me that “Talk is cheap! If you want something you believe in to last, write it down on paper. It creates a record for all to see and will help people know where you stand. Have the courage of your convictions and be prepared to defend them.”
Santiago (he preferred to be called by his last name, from his Army days) embodied for me the courage of his convictions. He clearly took on some unpopular causes in writing and stood his ground. Leadership of the best kind.
He carried this leadership and staying power serving his beloved country for 30 years in the United States Army. He retired in 1985 after several overseas assignments, including a combat tour in Vietnam.
Two years ago, I asked him to join me for lunch so I could know him personally. He explained he had respiratory health problems, which made it difficult for him to move about. He invited me to his home.
We became fast friends having many things in common. Before COVID-19, we spent time talking at his desk in-person. Our coffee or lunch often got cold because we talked so much.
Here is what I learned from our too-short time together: He was a very smart man who was proud of his family’s history of service to our nation.
He was the benevolent patriarch of his family and extended family. His children and grandchildren live nearby to him. That is a huge confirmation of family love and devotion.
His neighbors describe him with kind words. He grieved for his late wife, Ninfa, every day since her death.
He had a wonderful sense of humor that he would spring on you at just the right moment.
He was an informal, but well known, recognized leader in our community.
His children and grandchildren are accomplished people who contribute positively to our community.
He was a gracious host to all visitors.
I enjoyed every minute I spent in his company. I thought of him like a smarter older brother. I was honored to know him.
The hardest thing I will do this week is to remove his name from my email and text address lists ...
George G. Van Riper
retired U.S. Army major