Surrounded by generations of veterans, family matriarch Emma Olivarez, 82, smiled humbly and accepted a folded flag.
"I encouraged them. That's all I did," said Olivarez on Saturday afternoon inside Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4146 in Victoria, where she welcomed home her children -- many of whom are veterans. "I taught them right and wrong, and they listened to me."
Almost 70 members of the family packed the hall to honor about 30 military service members, including at least 13 veterans bearing the Olivarez name.
After a solemn color guard ceremony and words from WWII POW Orby Ledbetter, 92, retired Army Lt. Col. Vanessa Hicks-Callaway led the group in honoring the veterans with folded flags, official certificates and honest words of appreciation.
But, for 55-year-old Chief Warrant Officer 4 Richard Olivarez, a U.S. Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm with 30 years of service, the hero of Saturday's event was his mother, Emma Olivarez.
"She's the heart and soul of our family," he said.
And his brother, 59-year- old retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jesse Olivarez, who gave more than 27 years to the U.S. Army, agreed.
"She taught us some good values," Olivarez said. "Instead of paying it backward, she always taught us to pay it forward. So, we are out helping strangers and helping people. Me, I'm an educator and a social worker."
Of her eight sons and one daughter, five volunteered to serve their country through military service; one chose to become a firefighter and all graduated from high school and college.
"That's just the way mom raised us," Olivarez said. "For me, it made me a better human being and person."
Emma Olivarez was quick to downplay the difficulties of raising a nine kids.
"Raising one is just as hard as nine or 10," she said, smiling. "The older one start taking care of the younger ones."
But Jesse Olivarez said his mother worked hard to ensure the happiness of her children. He remembered a woman who often thoughtlessly sacrificed her own well-being for the sake of her children.
For example, a few years ago, he uncovered a shocking discovery.
"Mother always served the food for us, and we never noticed she never ate with us. She always ate what was left over on our plates," he said. "That's how we found out why she was always so skinny."
Despite that sacrifice and countless others, Emma Olivarez maintained an infectiously cheerful demeanor to the extent that many outside the family took notice.
"I remember bringing friends over, and they would all start calling her mom," Richard Olivarez said. "She would take everybody in."
And on Saturday, that unconditional love for her family, friends and even strangers was paid back to the aging mother.
Throughout the afternoon, Emma Olivarez was the recipient of love and admiration from generations of family. Despite the kind words, hugs and smiles from grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other extended family, the real reward for her efforts were everywhere around her, she said.
"I love every one of them," she said. "I just hope they raise their children the way I raised them." ___
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This article was written by Jon Wilcox from Victoria Advocate, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.