Uncle Sam on stilts helps escort veterans through a line of applauding students during the annual Veterans Day Program at Goddard High School, Thursday. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Five veterans representing the five branches of the U.S. military broke ground on the Chaves County Courthouse front lawn at noon on Veterans Day, commencing the construction of a new war memorial.
The memorial, spearheaded by Chaves County Commissioners and a War Memorial Committee, is meant to be an addition to the Veterans Memorial in front of the Chaves County Administrative Center.
â€œWe have outgrown our old memorial,â€ County Commissioner and Army veteran Michael Trujillo told the crowd, noting that the old memorial has names missing, misspelled and does not honor those who served in current conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. â€œWe decided we needed to honor our soldiers better than that.â€
Funding for the memorial was denied by the state, but veterans rallied to raise the $200,000 themselves by launching a â€œbrick campaign.â€ They will continue selling [auth] bricks for $100 each until Dec. 11, and interested donors can still fill out an application online at http://www.co.chaves.nm .us/.
â€œIt holds a lot of significance,â€ Don Hunter, who served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marines, said. â€œI think itâ€™s important to support our active duty and retired servicemen and women, especially the ones who died and paid the ultimate sacrifice.â€
Rep.-elect Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said he could not attend the ceremony due to a scheduling conflict in Washington, but asked Hunter to read a letter to the crowd expressing his appreciation for veterans.
â€œThis is a day to remember those who put their lives in the lines of danger,â€ Don Hunter read.
Mayor Del Jurney was on hand to show his support.
â€œThis is going to be a terrific addition to the community,â€ Jurney said. â€œItâ€™s a tribute to who we are and what we hope to be.â€
GHS honors vets
Veterans in uniform proudly walked through cheering crowds of high school students and an Uncle Sam on stilts when they entered the front doors of Goddard High School on Veterans Day, Thursday afternoon. The grand entrance and paparazzi treatment was a part of the high schoolâ€™s fourth annual Veterans Day Assembly.
â€œI got choked up walking in,â€ John Cannon, a retired Air Force sergeant who served three tours in Vietnam, said.
The assembly began with a meet and greet in the schoolâ€™s Little Theatre, where students in a cooking class baked goodies for the honored guests.
â€œI wanted to thank our veterans for fighting for our freedom,â€ Michelle Molina, 15, a GHS sophomore, said while serving tuna sandwiches and cookies. â€œAnd I love to cook.â€
After the social, the veterans were ushered into the gymnasium, where the entire student body was assembled. Following the entrance of colors and a story about the Star Spangled Banner, the GHS chorus sang the national anthem, the GHS Stargazers sang Bring Him Home, Tom Cooney sang Proud To Be An American and Sean Lee sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Jake Trujillo played Taps to salute military men and women who have passed away. Then, five veterans, each representing a different conflict, were presented with flowers.
â€œI think itâ€™s a great day,â€ Curtiss Hayes, a Korean War veteran, who was accompanied by two friends and his wife, Frances, said. â€œI often think the two years I spent in the Army were the two best years of my life.â€
The rally concluded with a performance by the New Mexico Military Institute Drill Team, a resounding chorus of God Bless America, a parade of flag bearers and cheerleaders waving an American flag.
Robert Fancher, GHS U.S. history teacher and former gunner mate in Vietnam, has organized the event for the past four years, he says, to teach teenagers to respect veterans. But something has happened since then, he said.
â€œEvery year it used to be something the school did. Now itâ€™s something the whole community participates in.”