From left, Gary Smith, ESGR area chairman, Dorothy Canon and Ray Battaglini, N.M. ESGR chairman, pose with National Guardsman during the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve banquet at the Civic Center, Saturday. Mark Wilson Photo
Bert Eldridge “was just a kid trying to come back home.” But last night Eldridge, accompanied by his wife and family, was recognized with a Purple Heart from U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce, R-N.M. It was Eldridge’s second.
“Tonight we are going to correct one of the oversights of the nation … (These men) are not interested in awards, not interested in recognition. They just want to come home,” Pearce said while indicating Eldridge’s recognition was long overdue.
As Pearce awarded Eldridge the medal, the entire audience rose in his honor at the 24th annual Guard and Reserve Appreciation banquet hosted by the Roswell Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee. The ESGR, a Department of Defense organization, was formed during the Korean War.
When he was 17, Eldridge joined the Army, serving as an infantryman in Vietnam from 1967 to 1970. He is the face behind the initiative to establish a veterans cemetery in Roswell. He received help from his longtime employer Ray Willis of McBride Oil and Gas. “I knew he had a plot of land down there by the cemetery. I asked him if (we) could buy it for the soldiers and he said no I’ll give it to you,” Eldridge said. At the banquet, Willis presented Mayor Del Jurney with a deed to about 20 acres of land that will be used for the new cemetery, located just north of South Park Cemetery. It will hold more than 2,000 plots, free for veterans and their spouses.
In addition to Eldridge, area employers were honored for their support of guards and reservists, particularly by providing them with employment. It is federally mandated that a soldier who is employed when he is called to serve, get his job back when he returns.
“If they have a job when they’re called up, they have a job when they come back,” Ray Battaglini, chairman of the New Mexico ESGR.
Chesapeake Energy just missed receiving national recognition for providing this service. Chesapeake received the Patriot Award from the Roswell ESG at the banquet. Eric Cindric is one of many military employees at Chesapeake. An engineer for the company, Cindric said, “The way they structure the company is very much like the military. They have a good mission statement. They look to challenge their workers and provide them with plenty of opportunities for future advancement … It has allowed me an easy transition out of the Army.” Cindric was recruited while in the military and started the job within one month of returning from active duty.
Other businesses recognized with the Patriot Award include Roswell Job Corps, the Social Security Administration, Roswell Police Department, New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe, New Mexico State Police, Competitive Car Care, Schlumberger Well Services and the NM Workforce Connection. The Historical Society for Southeastern New Mexico received a Certificate of Appreciation. The Spirit of Volunteerism Award went to City Councilor Steve Henderson, past chairman of the Roswell ESGR Committee.
After dinner, Vietnam War helicopter pilots Tom Baca, of Albuquerque, and Jack Swickard, of Roswell, described the 1967 rescue of 126 soldiers who had been surrounded by more than 600 North Vietnam Army and Viet Cong soldiers.