On Monday, just like on so many Memorial Days, Joe Gideon made his way to the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial in Southeast Albuquerque.
The World War II veteran and former prisoner of war attends the park’s annual ceremony every year. And every year, the 93-year-old – an Air Force sergeant who spent two months as a POW after having to bail out of a damaged B-24 over Hungary – said it’s the bagpipes that make him misty.
“There were some British soldiers in a different part of our camp, and they played their bagpipes,” Gideon said after Monday’s ceremony, holding a small American flag in one hand and his cane in the other. “Bagpipe music does something to me. I get choked up.”
Gideon was among several hundred veterans and other community members who gathered Monday to recognize the men and women who died in uniform, an annual event organized by the United Veterans Council of New Mexico.
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland was among the elected officials who spoke, reflecting on her own upbringing as the daughter of two service members. The Albuquerque congresswoman recalled her family’s angst while her dad – a 30-year Marine – did his tour in Vietnam. He returned, but Haaland asked the community to remember the families of those who did not, and recognized the Gold Star Mothers in attendance.
“We have with us folks who live every day with the memory of a loved one they have lost in the line of duty – parents who raised them, taught them and instilled in them noble values, and daughters and sons who lost a parent on the battlefield,” Haaland told the crowd on the bright, warm morning. “Though we can never know the degree of loss they endure, we must honor them, not just on Memorial Day, but every day.”
Keynote speaker Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham credited New Mexico for doing what she called “more than its fair share” in service of the country. She noted the state Legislature’s effort to fund a museum honoring Navajo Code Talkers – a push led by state Sen. John Pinto, who served as a Code Talker in World War II and who died last week at 94. The Legislature appropriated $1 million to the project this year, and the governor said the facility would show locals and visitors alike “how we led in the battle for freedom.”
She said there is now a push in Congress to have it designated a national veterans museum.