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 wacofoundation.org 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.
Additional stories about Mr. Sustaita:
- This Veterans Memorial in Waco is One of the Largest Ones Founded by a Latino, Nuestro Stories, May 30, 2022
- EDITORIAL: Manny Sustaita set citizenship bar high for the rest of us, Waco Tribune Herald, June 3, 2020
- Service planned for Manuel Sustaita, tireless advocate for veterans, Vietnam memorial, Waco Tribune Herald, June 1, 2020
- Central Texas Heroes: Manuel Sustaita, KWTX-TV, July , 22, 2016
- Voices of Valor: Manuel Sustaita, Waco Tribune Herald, June 5, 2011