ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was the late ’60s when a then-young Santa Fe architect named Ted Luna met two Pajarito Mountain Ski Area instructors, Tony and Enga Perry.
Luna said he often visited the couple at their home in Santa Fe, sharing a bottle of wine, and they became good friends. During the summer, Tony Perry worked near Angel Fire helping a local man sell 800 acres he owned. When Victor Westphall told him he was looking for an architect to help him design a memorial for his son, a fallen Vietnam soldier, Perry knew just who to ask.
Luna, now 81, was only three years out of college at that time and had only had one other commission, but the monument became the pinnacle of his career. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial chapel was dedicated in 1971. It was the first memorial in the nation to honor soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.
Luna said when he first went to survey the site, the first thing he noticed was a hill sloping into a valley that was surrounded by mountains. Luna said he felt overwhelmed by the task, knowing its importance.
“Then my vision became clear and they agreed,” he said. “We would do a chapel on the brow of the hill. I knew it would have to be ecumenical in concept – peace, love, healing and retreat like, but most of all timeless.”
Jeanne and Victor Westphall’s son, Victor Westphall III, was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was killed May 22, 1968, near Con Thien, a combat base not far from the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. His parents dedicated the rest of their lives to the monument.
A visitors center was built in the 1980s and the monument eventually become a memorial for all the men killed in the war. The couple worked to find a permanent funding source for the memorial that would live on even after their deaths. The elder Westphall died in 2003, followed a year later by his wife, Jeanne. Bother are buried at the memorial. The state of New Mexico took over the park in 2005.
Luna would go on to establish his own architectural firm in Santa Fe and work on both private and public projects. Another well-known project was the design of the Manuel Lujan Sr. building in Santa Fe. He also worked on the Grace Community Church in Santa Fe, the Bloomfield High School music building, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Los Alamos and the multi-purpose center in Aztec, N.M.
Luna grew up in northern New Mexico, has three children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren and was married three times.
“I guess I never could get that right,” he joked during a recent meeting at a local coffee shop. Luna lives alone with his poodle in a townhouse in the far Southeast Heights of Albuquerque. He keeps his white hair long and on this day it’s in a ponytail at the base of his neck. His hair matches his white casual button-up shirt, white cotton shorts and white 2017 U.S. Open baseball cap.
Luna has shelved his architectural pencils and traded them in for a passport and paintbrushes. He spends most of his days painting in a small studio at his home. When he’s not doing that, he pursues one of his greatest passions – traveling the world. So far he has been to the Bahamas, Mexico, the West Indies, England, Belgium, Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Greece, China, Japan, Thailand and more.
“Exploration of the world is one of my favorite things,” he said. “I believe people need to expand their horizons and understand other people and cultures.”
Luna has two books he hopes to publish soon. One features his paintings and offers a glimpse into his history. The other is a picture book of tin roofs he photographed throughout New Mexico.
The Center for Southwest Research library at the University of New Mexico contains most of his original architectural drawings, which were done by hand. Although he has pages of professional projects, he said the memorial remains his favorite.
“Little did we know the impact (it would have) on veterans of all wars and families worldwide,” Luna said. “… The memorial is dedicated to current and future generations of all peoples in our world.”