November 20, 2017

Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park & Friends Group Says “I Know Jo, Do You?”

vietnam-01By Jo Mixon

Kate Germain, Park Manager

Kate Germain, Park Manager of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park, wants to welcome everyone to the events planned for Memorial Day weekend, May 24- May 26, 2014. She said it is the biggest event of the year. The entire weekend is full.

The first Memorial Day event at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park was held in 1971, on the anniversary of Marine First Lieutenant David Westphall’s death, when the chapel was dedicated. Each year hundreds and hundreds of veterans and their families continued to fill the chapel to overflowing. Weather permitting, the events now take place in the Amphitheater, built in 2007. It has seating for approximately 500 people. And the state has now added a cement walkway to the top seating row, for wheelchairs. Kate says, “It’s like a huge family reunion.” People come and spend the weekend in Angel Fire, Eagle Nest or the tent city that goes up between the two.

On Saturday May 24, beginning at 1:00 pm there will be a POW/MIA update in the conference room followed by the Flag Retirement Ceremony, east of the amphitheater, at 3:00 pm. In years past, the Flag Retirement was held closer to July 4th, but they have moved it up to get ahead of fire restrictions and the possibility of cancellation. If you have flags that need to be retired, you may drop them off at the main Angel Fire Fire Department or bring them to the Memorial. A new fire pit has been erected on sight specifically for this ceremony. The American Legion Riders, Chapter 19- Post 90, from Los Alamos has adopted this year’s ceremony. Kate said they encourage different associations to sponsor and adopt many of the activities held at the Memorial, it helps veterans to feel a sense of ownership and she says it belongs to them.

On Sunday May 25 there will be Native American Storytelling at 11:00 am, Hope & Healing for Homefront Families at 1:00 pm, POW/MIA updates at 2:00 pm, Education Center at the Wall: Explaining the Vietnam War to the next Generations at 3:00 pm followed by the Candlelight Vigil in the amphitheater at 6:00 pm.

On Monday 9:00 am, May 26 you are invited to join Native American Veterans from the Okhay Owingeh for the flag raising and morning prayers. Then a 60’x40′ flag will be marched from the blinking light at NM 434 /US64, along the highway, up to the Memorial. If you have never witnessed this event please plan to this year. It is incredible to watch. Or, if you want, you are invited to participate in the march. At 9:30 am the 44th Army Band will play and the Memorial Day Ceremony starts at 11:00 am. Joseph Lee “Joe” Galloway, an American newspaper correspondent and columnist and author of “We Were Soldiers” will be on hand to sign books at 10:00 am and 1:00 pm. He is the former Military Affairs consultant for the Knight-Ridder chain of newspapers and was a columnist with McClatchy Newspapers.

Kate also wanted me to mention the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Sate Park Friends Group. They are a grassroots organization formed in 2012, when the state’s budget forced the reduction of budget and staff. The group consists of private citizens from all over New Mexico and its sole purpose is the support of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park, to improve the visitor experience. Every dollar they raise goes into the Memorial. Kate told me for the first time ever, they now have matching comfortable chairs in the Visitor Center movie room donated by the Friends Group! The State employs two full time seasonal staff in the summer and one in the winter. All other helpers are volunteers. She said it takes about 25 volunteers to help with the Memorial Day weekend activities.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park was the first major Vietnam memorial in the United States. It is currently the only state park dedicated exclusively to veterans of the Vietnam War. It was begun by Victor and Jeanne Westphall, grief-stricken parents of Marine First Lieutenant David Westphall, who was among sixteen young men in his unit killed in an ambush on May 22, 1968 in Vietnam. The Westphalls used their son’s insurance policies to begin construction of the Peace and Brotherhood Chapel. The chapel resembles a sail and perches on the hillside overlooking the Moreno Valley. It is open twenty-four hours a day. At the time of its construction, the site received national media attention and helped inspire the establishment of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., completed in 1982. In 1987, the United States Congress recognized Angel Fire as a memorial of national significance.

It also makes a significant contribution to the economy of Angel Fire and the Moreno Valley. An average of over 45,000 people a year visit the memorial. Three quarters of them come between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The David Westphall Visitor Center, located on site, provides local brochures and recommends lodging, restaurants and activities to encourage visitors to stay whenever possible.Volunteers are always appreciated.

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