Manuel “Manny” Sustaita, a 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 born to a hardworking family of migrant farmworkers Francisco and Guadalupe (Hernandez) Sustaita. As a boy, he loved spending time with his South Waco friends, playing and selling newspapers, peanuts and popcorn at baseball and Baylor football games. He attended Waco public schools, and was a lifelong member of the Latin American United Methodist Church in Waco, which was founded by his grandparents in 1946.

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, he was deployed to Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Island of Cypress during the Turkish-Greece conflict, and to 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 Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, among many others.

Upon returning to civilian life in Waco, Mr. Sustaita started what would become a more than three decade career selling insurance, first for MetLife, where he worked for more than 20 years, and later for his own firm Manuel Sustaita Associates. He served on several boards, and was bestowed with numerous awards for his tireless efforts in supporting veteran, Latino and community causes.

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 one of the early pioneers 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 the Waco community 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 legacy and oral memoirs will be highlighted later this month as part of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History Project that preserves the stories of individuals that have helped shape Waco history.

He was preceded in death by his parents; brother Francisco Sustaita; sisters Alvina, Lupe, Mary and Sarah; and his former wife Patricia Rivera Sustaita, the mother of his daughters.

Left to cherish his memory and legacy are his daughters Angela Sustaita-Ruiz of Miami, FL, and husband Manny Ruiz; Melissa Sustaita Acosta of Austin, TX, and husband Eduardo Acosta; longtime companion Josie Valdez of Temple, TX; sisters Rebecca Chavarria of Waco, TX and Linda Sustaita-Torres of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, his beloved grandchildren, along with many loving nieces, nephews and dear friends.

The family will hold a private memorial service on Saturday, June 20th, and invites family and friends to leave condolences using the form below. 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 or by check mailed to 1227 N. Valley Mills, Dr., Suite 235, Waco, Texas 76710.

The last time we were all together was for our family trip to Anaheim, CA for RetroPop Con’s Ultimate 80s Weekend in September 2019.

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7 entries.
Homer D Trevino Homer D Trevino wrote on June 16, 2020 at 6:59 am
Very true what was said about him--caring, helping. community builder, friend, and many other good things. condolences to his family.
Lydia Suniga Lydia Suniga wrote on June 14, 2020 at 7:16 pm
I send my condolence and prayers to Manuels family : He was a very kind and caring person. Treating everyone with respect, he never met a stranger.. he will truly be missed by our family [JOSIES family] Rest in Peace dear and caring Manuel in Our Lords Arms. With respect and honor to have known you!!! Lydia Suniga and Family
Bobby Campos Bobby Campos wrote on June 11, 2020 at 10:10 pm
My condolences and prayers to the family. Manuel was part of our family and a Brother! We were both South Waco kids and proud of it! We talked about our times selling newspapers and peanuts and popcorn at baseball games and Baylor football games. We had a hell of a childhood that we wouldn’t trade for a million dollars! We were poor and didn’t know it. Manuel was a very successful business man that faced many adversities in life. A Vet who loved his country. He loved his family and did so much for our community! He took up a lot of projects that people thought were impossible. He was founder of the Vietnam Memorial and Centex Hispanic Chamber. He served on so many non profit boards. Manuel was a tireless Warrior and my Brother! Manuel’s motto was “Don’t worry about the mule, Just load up the wagon.” RIP, Mi Hermano until we meet again! Vaya Con Dios!
Katherine Turner-Pearson Katherine Turner-Pearson wrote on June 10, 2020 at 10:34 pm
I'm not sure when I first met Manny; we are both from Waco, so we crossed paths a lot. But when I first announced I was running for Texas House of Representatives, Manny immediately called to schedule a meeting to discuss his thoughts on helping veterans and see what my ideas were in that area. He was passionate about finding ways to help the local veterans and the Hispanic Community in McLennan County. We came up with several ideas for both. I was later asked to join the Board of the Waco Vietnam Memorial with him, and I saw what a tireless advocate he really was. I was honored to know him, to work with him, and to call him my friend. The Waco community will greatly miss him. Rest in Peace my friend, Rest in Peace.
Minerva Minerva wrote on June 10, 2020 at 12:25 pm
I'm so sorry for your loss for the good Lord Jesus bless all of you and comfort you I pray that he rest in peace in heaven. It was a sweet sweet man rest in peace Uncle Manuel.
Sandra Wynn Walker Sandra Wynn Walker wrote on June 9, 2020 at 11:14 pm
Sorry for your loss! I am the oldest sister of Joseph R Wynn who served in Vietnam with Manuel, I never met him but heard lots about him from my mom, it meant a lot to her that he took the time to visit Her. I know he will be missed my many!
James Duarte James Duarte wrote on June 9, 2020 at 3:29 pm
Thanks to Manny the phrase "To Remember is to Honor ' will be with me for the rest of my life . We worked together as members of the American GI Forum and the Organization of Hispanic Veterans . Nancy and I wish to extend our sincere condolences to the Sustaita family . May God grant you peace and serenity during this trying time .