Santa Fe wore its heart on its sleeve Monday with a Veterans Day commemoration emphasizing those wounded in combat.
“When you see that Purple Heart on a young man or young woman – or in our case, older young men and women – you know, for one thing, they’ve been in combat somewhere and, two, they were unfortunate enough to be wounded,” said Pete Comstock, state commander of the New Mexico Military Order of the Purple Heart.
“And their recovery sometimes is pretty darn tough,” he said.
Comstock urged the community to remember and appreciate its veterans during the keynote speech at a ceremony held Monday morning at the Santa Fe Veterans Memorial on Galisteo Street. Comstock also served as grand marshal for the parade that preceded the ceremony.
Comstock spent four years in the Army and was injured in Vietnam after being shot at and hit by a hand grenade.
In many ways, Comstock said, the veterans of today’s wars remind him of the Vietnam veterans who arrived home with their own challenges nearly five decades ago.
“Our gratitude should be expressed not only one day a year but stand as an abiding commitment every day of the year,” he said.
Comstock was joined at the ceremony by more than a half-dozen Santa Fe-based Purple Heart recipients, others who served in the military and members of the community.
More than 5,000 veterans live in the Santa Fe area.
Santa Fe area resident David Roybal called the support he and his fellow veterans receive from the community on Veterans Day overwhelming. For Roybal, the ceremony and other gatherings are a time to meet up with friends and get to know people “you weren’t even sure were veterans.”
Roybal said he spent seven years in the military. While serving with an infantry unit in Vietnam, he took shrapnel blasts to the neck, leg and arm. He was given a Purple Heart in 1967.
“It’s important for us, the veterans, and also the people to recognize and remember their soldiers, their relatives, people that served, the people that didn’t make it back. It’s very important to remember,” Roybal said.
Shad Longenette was another Vietnam War veteran who made the trek to the Veterans Memorial.
Longenette said he joined the military after flunking out of college as an architecture student. He ended up working as a hospital corpsman in Vietnam in the late 1960s.
It was the start of what turned out to be a decades-long career for Longenette. After he was discharged from the military, he went back to school to study pharmacy and worked in the field right up until his retirement last year.
Longenette said the public’s current embrace of veterans is important.
“Most Vietnam veterans, when they see each other, they welcome each other home because they didn’t get welcomed home in those days,” he said.