MANSFIELD, LA (KSLA) - An ArkLaTex native died after being critically wounded by a roadside bomb in 2013. The 28-year-old Special Forces Green Beret was serving his third tour in Afghanistan.
KSLA Salutes the late Staff Sgt. Richard Lee Vazquez.
Vazquez enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating high school and never looked back.
Quickly climbing the ranks, he qualified for Special Forces.
"He wanted to be the best of the best. He said he was going to be a Green Beret," said his mother, Teresa Melton. "He loved his country, he loved serving it.
"He didn't tell me much about it because he was doing special things, you know. I was proud of him and still proud of him."
Nearly five years ago, his life was taken too soon, just days after his 28th birthday.
"It's still on my mind; it's just something you never want a parent to go through," Melton said as she recalled the moment her greatest fear became a reality.
"I saw headlights coming down the driveway. It's just that knock you never want to get."
Her son was killed by an IED while on deployment in Afghanistan on Nov. 13, 2013.
"They said that he died instantly.
"I always ask why. And I always thought he (God) was punishing me, you know, you took my baby. What did I do wrong?" Melton continued.
"But I had to learn that it's not that. It was just the good Lord needed another soldier in heaven, and that's what he got and many more."
Over the past few years, Melton and her family have had to learn how to move forward.
"It doesn't get easier. It's just it's part of my life now; it's just something I cope with. I just suck it up.
"I know that's what he would want. He'd say 'Mom, quit crying'."
While some days are admittedly harder than others, Melton said she finds strength in knowing it's what he would want.
She's focused on living with his same passion for life and family.
"He lit up the room. He walked through the door, he might've been a little short one, but it was like 'Here I am what's going!'," Melton joked.
"I just want them to be proud of him, of who he was and what he became."
Vazquez always tried to see good in people, loved to hunt and loved CrossFit, Melton said.
"He got into CrossFit all the time. He was just a down-home country boy. He'd come home, football, that was his main thing. You did not mess with him and his football, he was a Longhorn Texas football fan."
Memorial Day now carries a bitter-sweet meaning for Vazquez's family and friends.
"I just want his name to carry on because I'm proud of him and I'm proud of my country and it takes a lot," Melton said.
"I promised him I would live and keep talking about him and keep his legacy on about how great he was. I hope I'm doing him well, I know I am, I think he'd be proud of me."
Earlier this month, the Louisiana House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill that would designate Louisiana Highway 175 between the Mansfield city limits and Interstate 49 in DeSoto Parish as the SSG Richard Lee Vazquez Memorial Highway.
House Bill 60, now Act 258, now is awaiting the governor's signature.