by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith
“Never leave a fallen comrade” is possibly the most well-known phrase of the warrior ethos. To Victor Santiago though, comrade means family as well.
Even in a time of great loss and sadness there often is a true happiness between a man and his wife that is strengthened by the eternal bonds of love.
Victor was drafted into the Army in 1944 as an infantryman. He served for 21 years and is a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. His dedication to his fellow Soldiers was rewarded with a Bronze Star Medal during his tour in Korea, where Victor and his unit provided covering fire for a retreat. While Victor survived, he lost the majority of his platoon. Still, he is humble about his bravery and actions.
“I think there were more people that deserved more than me,” Victor said, recalling his award.
The warrior ethos instilled in Victor during his time in the Army has carried over to his dedication to caring for his wife, Martha, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2006. Not wanting to put his wife into an assisted living facility, Victor said he did all he could to keep her with him.
“I tried; I kept her until the last minute,” Victor said.
In Victor’s mind he was still a Soldier, taking care of his family and leaving no one behind, he said. After going through a state of denial about his wife’s condition, he finally accepted the facts and began yet another mission given to him by life.
“I had one more duty to do. To take care of her until I couldn’t no more,” he said. “That’s the only (and) best thing I can do.”
This devotion to Martha began more than 60 years ago when Victor had returned from World War II and was living back in his hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico. While at a small store he said he happened to look across the street where he saw a beautiful woman sitting at a piano and playing. Victor was captivated by her and said he knew from that moment that one day she would be his wife.
“I guess it was love at first sight,” he said, thinking back on the day.
On Oct. 15, 1948, they married and began their journey as husband and wife. Forgoing his father’s shipping business, Victor stuck with the military career and moved to Panama with his new bride in tow.
Having his wife’s support while he was deployed was a driving force that helped to keep him going and motivated to get back home to his family.
“She was a fantastic person,” he said. “When you’re in the service and you know your family is behind you, it will help you a lot.”
After all those years of his wife supporting him, raising their children and keeping things in order on the homefront, it was now Victor’s turn to take care of her. After slowly slipping into the grasps of the disease, it became apparent that Martha would need to be in a facility where she could be looked after around the clock.
While his own health was declining from the time spent taking care of his wife, Victor eventually did what he had tried to avoid for so long and placed Martha into an assisted living facility, The Court at Colorado Springs. However, his loyalty did not end there.
“He’s here every day … he puts her to bed, he reads to her, he holds her hand until she falls asleep. Every night without fail,” Victor’s daughter Martha, said.
His admiration and commitment to his wife is a source of inspiration for his family. The everlasting message of love and taking care of each other and one’s family resounds throughout Victor’s family.
“It’s like kind of inspiration for your kids,” said Victor’s son, Victor Santiago Jr. “We take care of each other. We respect each other, and we hold on to each other no matter what.”
Victor dedicated 21 years of his life to serving his country. He spent decades driving the concept of taking care of one another into his children’s heads and doing so not just by his words, but by his actions, said the younger Victor.
On Oct. 17, Victor and Martha celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary with Victor getting on one knee and once again asking Martha if she would be his wife, said Victor’s daughter Martha.
She said after 61 years, Victor’s love for his wife has not wavered.
He presented her with the same ring that he slipped on her finger back in 1948. Martha said yes and amidst tears from Victor’s eyes, they kissed and danced as a renewed husband and wife said Beth Byer, community relations director for The Court at Colorado Springs.
The values and principles instilled in Soldiers to care for their brothers in arms do not just apply to the war front; they also apply to the rest of a person’s life when they come across a situation where they have to care for someone else said the younger Martha.
“All he’s done is switch battlefields … but he’s still fighting,” Victor’s son said.
Now it’s time for Victor to return the favor by caring for his wife in her time of need, as she did for him in his time of need.
“I think this one was more of an emotional battlefield for him. He’s had to watch her go from an independent woman, who kept the home going very strongly and to become helpless, like a child,” Victor’s daughter, Martha, said.
“It’s a cruel disease,” Victor said.
Victor continues to see his wife every day to keep her happy and improve her quality of life the best he can as a loving, loyal and faithful husband.
“You just trust each other,” Victor said, “That’s 90 percent of the battle.”