LAREDO, TEXAS (KGNS) - Over the past year we've been lucky enough to meet some truly outstanding heroes right here in Laredo and bring you their stories. South Texas Heroes shines a light on the amazing things people have done in this community, many times saving people's lives. Now we're showing just a couple of the people we've introduced you to over the past year.
Jesus Salazar suffered a heart attack on February 24th and two mystery heroes came to his rescue. The telephone company worker was on the corner of Hillside and San Dario in Laredo when he lost consciousness due the heart attack. One person called 911 and the other performed CPR, then they vanished. We brought you the story then received calls identifying the mystery heroes. We got to be there for the special reunion as he met Israel Lerma who performed CPR and Michelle Kawas who called 911. The entire family was grateful. Jesus said, "my doctors told me these people, you need to find them, because they're the ones who really saved your life."
And we're thankful they did.
You also met a young man who applied skills he learned in school to save his whole family. "I was playing outside with my sister and we came inside and saw smoke coming from the living room," Juan Villarreal told us.
He was in fifth grade in February of 2015 when he got his siblings and grandmother out of the home, and ran to the neighbor's house to call 911. No one was injured.
You also got to discover another side of people in the community you may know for other reasons. You may know Hector Liendo as Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1 Place 1 in Webb County. But he's been donating food to veterans struggling with housing and living in the Rio Grande Plaza Hotel.
But Liendo himself knows what it's like to put on the uniform and serve. He was in the Navy from 1969 to 1973. Liendo said, "back then I was 18 years old. It was a challenge, it was an adventure really. I'd never been out of Laredo."
He served on board the U.S.S. Anchorage handling maintenance duties to keep the Anchorage running smoothly. But many people may not realize the role the Navy played in Vietnam and he was there in 1971. "We would go in and pick up the Marines coming out of the bush," Liendo told us.
And another man is one of the most well known investigators in Laredo, so much so that the new Laredo Crime Lab for the Texas Department of Public Safety was actually named after him. But O.J. Hale, Sr. also served his country in the military. Hale has worked for decades as an investigator for the district attorney's office. But in the late 1960's he served his country in a different way, flying helicopter missions in the skies over Vietnam. Hale was a crew chief and he handled artillery, shooting at the enemy through the open helicopter door with a cavalcade of weapons. He survived several helicopter crashes.
After serving, he chose a career in law enforcement, eventually working as an investigator for the District Attorney's office. He's been in law enforcement nearly 50 years. And he was touched to have the new Texas DPS crime lab named after him. Hale said, "it's a great honor and it's something that hits the heart."
And he's been a businessman in Laredo for decades. You can still find him behind the counter at Jett Bowl taking care of customers decades after buying the popular entertainment center. But before Jett Bowl, and the school board, and his other community positions and business endeavors, Roque Vela, Senior was a soldier
He was injured by a grenade and received a Purple Heart. He later received a commendation for valor in the middle of combat, providing medical attention to wounded soldiers in the middle of a firefight. Vela often thinks about those lost in Vietnam and wants all Americans to remember the sacrifices of veterans and what they stood for. "The freedoms that we have now are because of veterans," Vela said, "if we want to cherish the freedoms we have, we have to depend on the United States soldier."
We couldn't bring you all of our heroes from 2015 but we want to thank them all for going the extra mile to care for others, and for sharing their stories.