You Die, We Fly

The Texas Story Project.

“There’s not a lot of Hispanics who have ever been selected to be special agents in the United States Secret Service. The number is small, and I know every one of them… because all but two of them graduated from St. Mary’s.”

Anthony “Tony” Chapa— St. Mary’s alumnus and highest-ranking Hispanic retired Secret Service agent— has many a story to tell of his days in the Secret Service. He accomplished feats that had never been dreamed of and continues to teach others how to do the same through the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association (HAPCOA).

“We weren’t looking for fame and glory we were just trying to do a great job”

Chapa has always been interested in law enforcement. His father was in the Marines and he grew up hearing stories of veteran affairs which he “stayed in the back of his mind” and pushed him towards law enforcement. Chapa was the first graduate from Jefferson High School to attend St. Mary’s University through the Upward Bound program which provides students who fall in categories of greatest concern with the federal funds to go to college.

At St. Mary’s, he got his degree in political science and communications. He then went on to get his Masters as well. During graduate school, he met Ralph Lopez and Freddie Valenzuela who became his mentors and close friends. Valenzuela became a General in the US Army, formerly the highest-ranking hispanic in the US military. Lopez helped Chapa get a job teaching at the police academy which allowed the new recruits to gain college credit while going through training. While working a recruiting event for the police academy, Chapa was approached by a recruiter from the Secret Service who wanted him to take “the test.”

When the day of the test came, 55 showed up, five passed the test, two were offered the job, and only Chapa accepted the offer.

“They wanted young agents that they could make run seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Who could live here and work in Mexico and who spoke Spanish.” Throughout his time in the Secret Service, Chapa performed many intense tasks, namely chasing counterfeit money, and learned a lot about working on a team. They would assign a group of agents to a mission and each person would have their specific tasks, then on the next mission they would rotate so each agent learned how to do each part.

“We became a team… We’re all retired now, but we’re best friends”

Chapa quickly moved up in the ranks of the Secret Service. He became the agent in charge of Los Angeles, the Deputy assistant director of the technical security division, and finally, “I became the first Hispanic to become the assistant director of the Secret Service, and no one since.” However, Chapa recounted his greatest fear during his time as the assistant director that came true: Operation Serenade.

“I was always worried if president Reagan dies while I’m in charge, I’m in charge of the funeral” Of course, they had plans for almost every possible situation that could have happened. Plans A-E were ready and waiting to take effect should former president Reagan die, “but we needed a plan F.” The former president died at home in one of the guest rooms rather than a main room and his wife found him. Immediately, she called her best friend Dan Radler and had about a three-minute phone call with him before she told the agent stationed at the house. In those three minutes word got out. Chapa got a phone call with the code word: Operation Serenade, which is the death of a former president, and had to take immediate action. He even had to speak at the funeral in Santa Monica because the Santa Monica chief of police froze on the stand.

“We had a slogan: You die, we fly.”

The Secret Service does incredible things to protect the presidency and the country. It is even more incredible though, that the latinos from San Antonio were the guys running the whole show behind the scenes at one time. “They wrote an article on us called ‘Texas becomes LA Law’… about how these two latinos from San Antonio were in charge of the two biggest federal agencies on the west coast, and we were like, “don’t tell anybody!”


Angelique Maldonado is a sophomore English major at St. Mary's University. She is pursuing a career in Law and also has aspirations of becoming a famous pop star one day. Angelique is currently producing her first album with Americastar Records in Houston, Texas and continues to perform all over the Houston/San Antonio areas. Maldonado is a passionate student and enjoys learning new things as well as putting her knowledge into practice and hopes to have a major impact on the world someday.

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