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Remembering fallen brothers: U.S. Border Patrol memorializes agents killed in 1998 car accident

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U.S. Border Patrol agents, family members, and friends of Senior Border Patrol Agents Thomas J. Williams and Jesus De La Ossa gather along U.S. 82 near Hope. (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)

Twenty years ago, on Oct. 20, 1998, Senior Border Patrol Agents Thomas J. Williams and Jesus De La Ossa lost their lives in a vehicle accident west of Artesia.

On that night, New Mexico State Police Officer Robert Smoot was the first responder to the scene. Smoot is now the program specialist at the Federal Law Enforcement Center (FLETC) in Artesia. On Saturday afternoon, he and his wife and daughter, along with current Border Patrol students and the families of the fallen agents, gathered at the scene of the accident to honor their memory.

Not long after the initial accident, the then-13-year-old son of Agent Williams, Thomas J. Williams Jr., asked his mother if he could build a cross to be placed at the scene of the accident in remembrance of his father. That simple, wooden cross has borne the memories of the agents for 20 years. Upon learning of the intent of the Border Patrol to hold a 20-year memorial for the agents, that same son, now 33 and a welder by trade, manufactured a new cross – one that will stand the test of time, as it is welded out of metal and filled with the love he has for his father.

Also among the family members present was Agent De La Ossa’s nephew, who is a member of the current class of Border Patrol agents attending the academy at the FLETC.

“It is my honor to be the Master of Ceremonies for the 20th anniversary memorial service for our brothers, Thomas and Jesus,” said Sgt. Major Carlos Ortiz of the Border Patrol Academy. “Not one day goes by that we don’t remember them.

“Those who accept the responsibility of protecting our nation’s borders have held many titles since our nation’s inception: Mounted Watchmen, Patrol Inspectors, and Patrol Agents. But no matter the title, they all provided the same security our nation requires for more than a century. However, only some have been called upon to give, as President Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘their last full measure of devotion.’”

Chief Patrol Agent Dan M. Harris Jr. spoke of 1998 as being one of the deadliest years for Border Patrol agents in the history of the agency, with seven agents lost that year. He recalled being in Washington, D.C., when the decision was made to never forget the fallen and to honor them diligently. Of that was born “one of the most outstanding Honor Guards in the nation” and the Fallen Heroes/Silent Partner program to “honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to secure our nation’s borders.”

Artesia High School senior band member MacKenna Smoot, daughter of Robert and Jenny Smoot, closed the ceremony with a playing of “Taps.”

Artesia High School senior band member MacKenna Smoot performs “Taps.” (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)

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