Manuel “Manny” Sustaita, a community builder, veterans advocate and decorated U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam and would go on to build Waco’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, passed away peacefully of natural causes on May 30, 2020. He was 76.
Mr. Sustaita was born in Waco, Texas on April 13, 1944, the youngest son of 12 children born to Francisco and Guadalupe (Hernandez) Sustaita. His grandparents were founders of the Latin American United Methodist Church in Waco, an important institution that led him to a lifetime of service for his community and country.
Mr. Sustaita attended public schools in Waco including Sul Ross Elementary, Bells Hills Elementary, South Junior High, and Waco High School. He joined the Texas National Guard in 1961, and a year later enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
During his four years of service in the Marines, Mr. Sustaita was deployed to Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Island of Cypress during the Turkish-Greece conflict, and Vietnam as part of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division (Forward), Fleet Marine Force that landed in DaNang, in March 1965, becoming the first Marine combat presence in South Vietnam. Mr. Sustaita earned various decorations and awards during his time of service to his country including Combat Action Ribbon for service in Vietnam, Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal for service in Cuba, National Defense Service Medal, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, among many others.
Upon returning to civilian life in Waco, Mr. Sustaita began what would become a more than three decade career in the insurance industry, first for MetLife financial services, where he worked for more than 20 years, and later for his own insurance and real estate company Manuel Sustaita Associates.
Mr. Sustaita’s personal passion for veteran and business affairs led him into a lifelong commitment to serving his beloved Waco community, and bi-partisan political causes in various functions.
He was a founding member of the Organization of Hispanic Veterans, co-founder of the bilingual newspaper El Tiempo, co-founder of the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and he played an instrumental role in saving the Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center from closing. In 1988, Mr. Sustaita was awarded the GI Forum Veteran Hall of Fame Award by Dr. Hector P. Garcia, founder of the American GI Forum. He was a an active member of the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC), and part of the delegation of Hispanic business leaders that was invited to the White House by President Ford in 1976.
Even though he served Waco in many functions, nothing gave him more pride than uniting the community to build the Waco Citizens for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which after 10 years of fundraising as its president and founder he helped inaugurate in 2004.
Mr. Sustaita’s personal memoirs will be highlighted in Oral Memoirs of Manuel “Manny” Sustaita as part of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History Project that preserves the stories of individuals that have helped shape Waco history.
Left to cherish his memory and legacy are his daughters Angela Sustaita-Ruiz of Miami, FL, and Manny Ruiz, and Melissa Sustaita Acosta of Austin, TX, and Eduardo Acosta, his lifelong companion Josie Valdez of Temple, TX, his sisters Rebecca Chavarria of Waco, TX and Linda Torres of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, grandchildren Briani and Naomi Ruiz, and Eli and Evan Acosta, as well as many loving nieces, nephews and friends.
The family will hold a private memorial service on Saturday, June 20th at 10:00 am, and invites family and friends to view the livestream on Facebook, and leave condolences at www.manuelsustaita.com. A celebration of life will be planned for a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Manuel Sustaita Memorial Fund through the Waco Foundation to benefit non-profit organizations serving the Waco community. Donations can be made online at wacofoundation.org or by check mailed to 1227 N. Valley Mills, Dr., Suite 235, Waco, Texas 76710.
Additional information about Mr. Sustaita:
- Service planned for Manuel Sustaita, tireless advocate for veterans, Vietnam memorial, Waco Tribune Herald, June 1, 2020
- Central Texas Heroes: Manuel Sustaita, KWTX-10, July 25, 2016
- Voices of Valor: Manuel Sustaita, Waco Tribune Herald, June 5, 2011
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