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For a Friend, to Honor a Brave Fallen Soldier

Updated on June 4, 2016

Looking for His Companion in Combat - For Me a Different Kind of Quest

I have long sought a way to honor our military personnel in a unique way, and though I can't say this satisfies my quest, it is a good step in that direction.

I first met Kevin online. He served in the Korean War, and during that time, he served with five people who were KIA (Killed in Action). Afterward, when he had the resources, he proceeded to look for the families of each and make contact with them. He has reached the families of four of them, but until recently, even after a 50 year search, he hadn't found out anything of significance about the fifth. This young man of only 20 years, was killed in combat, and is buried in a cemetery in Patagonia, Arizona.

I am not sure of the exact relationship of the person I sought, whether Kevin was his superior officer, or they were simply serving together under someone else. However, I learned of this search, and since I was planning a trip to Patagonia anyway, I promised to find and photograph the gravestone for Kevin.

The young soldier's name was Angel Villegas.

Planning Ahead

I realized that locating the grave may not be an easy thing to do, so I concluded I should locate the cemetery on Google Maps before I left home. It was a very good thing I did, because I would never have found it otherwise. As things were, I still passed by it the first time. I figured out early on that the road to the cemetery didn't have a name, so there would be no street sign, and I also suspected that there would be no other indication of where to turn. I was right.

The first map shows the location of the cemetery with respect to the settled parts of Patagonia. As you can see on the map, the cemetery is located maybe a quarter mile from the last building, toward the southwest. The road leading up to it almost parallels the highway. It is a steep road uphill, which is one of the things that threw me off. The red A shows the location of the cemetery.

I first drove by the road, wondering if that was the right one, and then saw another road leading off to the left, with a locked gate across it. That was when I suspected I had gone too far. When I came across a second road to the left with a closed gate, I was sure I had gone too far, so I turned back. The steep road up the hill being the only other likely possibility that matched the map, I turned on it. I drove up the hill, and took the next right turn, and drove a short distance further up the hill, and upon reaching the top, I saw a left turn road, with the cemetery right there!

So I drove into the cemetery for a little ways, and found a place to park that wouldn't block the road, just as I turned to the right on the road that bisects the cemetery.

The Battle

Kevin writes:

"Angel proved very elusive compared to the others. Had I not lost my address book in the trench at Heartbreak ridge my task would have been much simpler. I just had fragmentary information as to hometowns. The first one (John Wimbley) was missing in action for many years. I was the last to see him alive at the battle of Tangwon-ni. I found his family in 1953. The next one was a soldier by the name of Tony Soto.He was killed on the night of October 26 1951. at Snipers ridge.It was on the same 24 hour period when Angel died. I found his family forty years later. He was from Los Angeles. Just about the same time I located the family of a Japanese American who perished in the fighting at Tangwon-ni . He also was from Los Angeles.( Yukiwo Tanouye). I found his brother from an article in the VFW about his brother being awarded the Medal of Honor a long overdue from world war two. The brother who received the award for his brother Ted (deceased) and I have kept a close relationship. Another who's trail has gone cold and one who was not killed but wounded and who's whereabouts I have not been able to track down was a young man from Chicago.who was my assistanr BAR man and was shot five times on snipers ridge . Four of his wounds were non life threatening one hit him in the chest being stopped by a bible and a wallet in his shirt pocket."

Tangwon-ni was a particularly difficult campaign. From VFW Magazine:

"For three days in early September 1951, elements of the 3rd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division, engaged in one of the Korean War's deadliest battles. It earned participants the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation."

Kevin had a photocopy of the article, which he sent me. His picture was in it.

Here is a link to the article:

Tackling Tangwon-Ni

Participants in the campaign received the Presidential Unit Citation, a highly coveted award (but not one easily earned).

You can see the citation here:

Distinguished Unit Citation.

Kevin also sent me an original photocopy of this.

I feel honored by his friendship, and the fact I have been able to thank him for his service.

Patagonia Mountains Seen When I First Started Out

I had gotten out of my car, and walked a little ways back and forth, looking at graves, when I took this picture.

The cemetery is actually quite interesting as those things go. Unlike some of the cemeteries closer to home, the graves here are highly individualized, with many different styles of plots and decorations. So I took a few pictures of other interesting things while I was at it.

Some Other Graves

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The first thing I noticed when I got out of my car. I hoped to find Angel's grave here...it would have seemed entirely appropriate. But I didn't find it here.Colorful flowers.One of the more elaborate graves.And another one with a good message...Close-up view of the message.Beautiful colors!
The first thing I noticed when I got out of my car. I hoped to find Angel's grave here...
The first thing I noticed when I got out of my car. I hoped to find Angel's grave here...
it would have seemed entirely appropriate. But I didn't find it here.
it would have seemed entirely appropriate. But I didn't find it here.
Colorful flowers.
Colorful flowers.
One of the more elaborate graves.
One of the more elaborate graves.
And another one with a good message...
And another one with a good message...
Close-up view of the message.
Close-up view of the message.
Beautiful colors!
Beautiful colors!

The Grave - Located!

Here is a Google Map close up, of the cemetery. The green arrow is right on top of the grave. It has a low concrete wall (part of the lining? I don't know) which you can readily see in this photo.

It took me about half an hour to locate the grave. It was a half hour well spent.

View of the Grave

The grave is located on the lower right of the photo. If you know where it is with respect to the trees, it is easy to find.

The Gravestone

As you can see, Angel was a private, and only 20 years old.

The approximate pronunciation of his name (Sonoran accent) would be "Anhel Biyegas". The accented syllables are the last one in his given name, and the middle one in his surname. The "a" is pronounced "ah". Sonoran Spanish speakers pronounce a "v" somewhere between our hard "v" and a "b".

I wish I could personally thank him for giving his life for the liberty of millions of Asians, who were spared the tyranny of communism by the American war effort, keeping most of south-east Asia free for many years. In South Korea alone, there is one church in Seoul that has a half million members. They would not be free to worship under Korean communism.

The war effort was also important for our own national interests, because the best way to protect ourselves from tyrants is to pin them down on their soil, before they ever get here.

As you can probably see, unlike some of the other graves in the area, his is totally undecorated. He deserves better. I hope I will get a chance to put a small American flag on his grave next time I visit Patagonia.

I didn't get a good photo of the emblem. I believe it is the symbol of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Friendship

After I returned from Patagonia, I sent the photo of the gravestone to Kevin, and he was very grateful. As a result, we struck up a friendship. It's amazing how many parallels there are between us.

He is one of 7 children, and he and his wife had five children, and lost two others. We have seven and lost one other. Two of ours were adopted, and two of our grandchildren. Three of his grandchildren were adopted. There is an ethnic mix in our families. In his family, one grandchild from Ethiopia, and two from Kazakhstan. He also has other family members of different ethnicity: one from Singapore, one born in Scotland, and three from the Philippines. The daughter-in-law from Singapore is Chinese-East Indian. He has 11 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

We have two Caucasian-African adopted children, and each of them has a child, one by a woman from the Philippines and another by a woman with roots in Mexico. We have former Asian in-laws: Chinese, Thai, Lao, Cambodian. One of our sons is currently serious about a Native American woman. Our youngest son is married to a woman who is Caucasian, Chinese, and Hawai'ian. We have 19 grandchildren.

Kevin has been married 62 years and I have been married 50 years.

Heck, I was just a kid, barely in school, when the Korean War was fought.

Both Kevin and his wife, and we, like classical music. Our political views are similar. Our biggest difference is religion: he's Catholic and I'm Lutheran.

Final Thoughts

It has been a privilege to go on this quest and obtain the information Kevin has been seeking. I consider this to be an ongoing quest. I will do everything I can to help him finish locating Pvt. Villegas' family.

If it is something you do, please pray for our success.

Please leave your thoughts.

If you have any additional information about the family of Pvt. Angel Villegas, please let me know. I would deeply appreciate it. Thank you.

Guestbook - Request for Information

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      Kevin Wolff 8 months ago

      What a pleasant surprise to receive this article from my friend Bernarr. It was wonderful to read my friend Pat's fine article about her efforts on my behalf in locating Angel's grave. I must admit that the pain I suffered in losing such a good friend washed over me as I recounted that sad time even after 66 years. It never diminishes. Remember him in your prayers.

    • topclimb lm profile image

      topclimb lm 3 years ago

      My oldest son was in the US Army Air Calvary and went to Iraq (Mosul). He came home... Thanks Pat for doing this good work.

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      Colonel2013 3 years ago

      Thank you for what you are doing to honor all those who have served and continue to serve their country.

    • Old Navy Guy profile image

      Old Navy Guy 3 years ago

      Semper Fi for your efforts. I wish you well in your search. Thank you from all who have served.

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 3 years ago

      The name seems to be a fairly common name I think, as I have known several 'Villegas' personally over the years. But none from the Arizona area, nor any that have ever mentioned a relative lost in Korea. I will call and see if I can find anything further, but I thank you for your efforts. Too many of the lost are forgotten and I salute your efforts.

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      pawpaw911 3 years ago

      Thanks for taking the time to honor one fallen soldier, and those who served with him. Well done.