I learned several things this week about Chamber member, the David Westphall Veterans Foundation. Did you know that anyone, myself included, could be a member of this foundation for just $30.00 a year?
The David Westphall Veterans Foundation was started in 1988 with its primary purpose being to support the Vietnam Veterans Memorial located on the outskirts of Angel Fire. The Memorial’s purpose is, as stated on their website, “to honor all American veterans and members of the military forces by memorializing the sacrifices they have made and by recognizing the sense of duty and the courage they have displayed as they answered their country’s call to arms. Operation of the Park helps fulfill the Foundation’s purpose by providing a memorial to veterans and a Visitors Center that serves as a place for reunion, reflection, and healing”.
In 2005 the foundation donated the Memorial and the thirty acres surrounding it, to the state of New Mexico to become the thirty-third State Park. The state agreed to step in and repair and maintain the infrastructure of the memorial, spending approximately 2.6 million in that renovation. According to Chuck Howe, Foundation President since 2006, they have a donation agreement with the state parks where all of the money they raise goes back into the park. The Foundation’s responsibilities include operating the gift shop, run by Gayle McCutchen; collecting, cataloging, and presenting photos and bios of those killed in Vietnam, the administration of the brick walkway program, preparing a quarterly newsletter, and being available to welcome and greet visitors to the memorial.
Gayle told me that of the 58,282 brave men and women killed in the Vietnam War, 399 were from New Mexico. She has now collected photos of 396 of the 399, plus many more from all over the United States. She displays and rotates these photos on a monthly basis to be displayed in the chapel and visitor center.
Chuck explained the brick walkway program as an annual fundraising event. It takes place on the Labor Day weekend in conjunction with the Veterans Run for the Wall. Bricks may be purchased for $75.00, to honor anyone who has served in any branch of the military, living or deceased, and not just those who served in the Vietnam War. The bricks are engraved with the individuals name and their dates of service. Veteran volunteers place the bricks at the Memorial during the annual ceremony. On Saturday, September 1, they will be laying over 300 bricks. Eight of these are Medal of Honor recipients.
Chuck gave me a brief history of David Westphall and his father “Doc” as we toured the Memorial grounds. It is a fascinating story both tragic and heroic. After David was killed in an ambush in Vietnam in 1968 along with 16 others, his parent’s lives were forever changed. They spent the rest of their lives building and maintaining the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in dedication to their son and all those who so valiantly lost their lives serving their country. Chuck and I wondered if Doc had any comprehension of the thousands of lives he would touch, for so many years in the future, when he started this labor of love for his son.
Please visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or their website www.vietnamveteransmemorial.org. They have documented stories that are both heartwarming and educational. Entrance to the Park is free, and the Chapel itself never closes. Go see Gayle at the gift shop and be sure to say hello to George Broussard, resident volunteer. And please consider joining the David Westphall Veterans Foundation for just $30.00 a year.