Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The New Mexico Veterans Memorial was a fitting place for Ramon Gonzales and his sister Eva to be on a blustery, chilly Monday morning.
“It’s very important to me,” Ramon Gonzales said of attending Albuquerque’s Veterans Day ceremony. “Four of my siblings were in the military, my sister (Eva) and three brothers. … We’re a veteran family.”
“We have a tradition in our family of service to our country,” his sister, Eva Gonzales, said. “There’s a sense of honor associated with it.”
They were proof of a statement made by Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller during the ceremony that New Mexicans had a “profound dedication to the call of arms to protect our union.”
Ramon Gonzales, 83, served in the Air Force from 1953 to 1975 in a career that included one tour in Vietnam. Eva Gonzales, 78, served in the Air Force from 1963-67.
Their family’s service continues to the present generation, Ramon Gonzales said. His great-grandson is serving in the Air Force in Germany. His grandson and his grandson’s wife are also Air Force veterans.
“You’re doing something to help keep the freedoms that were fought for during the American Revolution,” Eva Gonzales added. “That’s one reason our family feels it’s an honor to serve.”
“We are fortunate, we’re lucky to live in a country like this,” her brother said.
World War II veteran Marion Jones, 92, who fought in the Pacific in Okinawa, had been concerned young people weren’t as appreciative of military service. But the day’s ceremony seemed to refute that notion.
“It’s really nice with all of these younger people here,” he said as he stood near a line of Junior ROTC members.
In Santa Fe, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and others gathered at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial in the state Capitol area. Joseph Howland – as he has done for the past 10 years – brought a display case full of medals earned by his brother, Spc. 4 Leroy Howland of Santa Fe, who died in the Vietnam War. Leroy was 21 when he died in November 1969.
His Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge and other awards were assembled by Joseph Howland’s other brother, Henry, who also served in Vietnam and came home alive. “I’m here to honor my brothers and all the veterans in my family,” said Joseph Howland.
Ringing the bell
The Albuquerque ceremony included Col. David Miller, 377th Air Base Wing and Kirtland Air Force Base installation commander, swearing in a young group headed to military service.
Veterans for Peace helped usher in the event following a tradition that dates back to the armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. Members rang a bell 11 times, just as people did on the day the war ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The day became a holiday called Armistice Day that celebrated world peace and later evolved into Veterans Day.
Several hundred people attended the Albuquerque ceremony, a large percentage being veterans.
That was what made the event appealing for 65-year-old U.S. Army Vietnam veteran Dave Betancourt.
“It’s really good to be around other veterans,” said Betancourt, who served in Vietnam from 1972-75. “It’s the only time you feel like anybody else understands. You don’t know who is a veteran out there half of the time. But when you’re here, you know. It makes you feel full, instead of wounded.”
Among those Lujan Grisham paid tribute to in Santa Fe was Conrad Rivera, a World War II vet. He told the crowd, “Old age has gotten to me, but I’m proud and happy to be here.”
Lujan Grisham said she had recently returned from a trip to Fort Bliss, Texas, to visit members of the New Mexico National Guard, including her nephew, who are training for a peacekeeping mission in Djibouti. She said she learned that many of the 400 New Mexicans who will receive passes to visit their families before leaving for Africa have no way to pay for journeys home. The governor said she has accumulated lots of airline frequent flier miles and vowed to make them available, and also promised to figure out how to pay for other tickets back home. “We need to do a better job of supporting (military) families,” Lujan Grisham said.
One of the most moving parts of the Santa Fe event was the presentation of “Quilts of Valor” to five Native American women veterans, part of a grassroots volunteer initiative to bring “comfort and honor” to vets. Those receiving colorful quilts were Staff Sgt. Mary Ann Bullhead (Diné/Lakota) of Rio Rancho, Hospital Corpsman Povi Cruz Threlkeld of Ohkay Owingeh, Sgt. Marie J. Nickoli (Koyukon Athabascan) of Farmington, Spc. 4 Laris Manuelito (Navajo) of Gallup and Sgt. Cadence Kionut (Zuni/Pawnee/Caddo) of Zuni. All but Kionut were in attendance.