After years of struggle, it took the strong will of local veterans, officials and community businesses to provide Roswell with its own official cemetery to honor its service men and women.
U.S. Army Vietnam veteran Robert Jensen stood in the bitter cold Monday, on a freshly paved street to watch the dedication ceremonies.
Surrounding the stage were Southeast New Mexico Legion Riders standing at attention, holding the American Flag. An honor guard marched forward before the crowd stood for the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
“To see something like this, is very heartwarming,” Jensen said. In his time, veterans were spat on, he said.
On stage, Air Force veteran Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM, a pilot who served in missions over Vietnam, was joined by state, local officials and cemetery committee members.
“I think Roswell is setting an example nationwide for other places that are just tired of waiting on a federal government that is too slow, too bureaucratic, and sometimes gets caught up in the mundane pieces rather than the willingness to remember,” Pearce said.
“We will remember here. We will dedicate. We will hallow this ground … locally. If Washington chooses to join, good for them,” Pearce said. “But we’re going to do it on our own.”
Though plans for the cemetery were years in the making, the final pieces fell into place quickly in the past few months. The McBride family donated 20 acres north of, and directly adjacent to, the South Park Cemetery.
After Gov. Susana Martinez announced in July the creation of the State Veterans Cemetery Initiative to designate four rural sites in the state to place new cemeteries, Roswell veterans and officials put plans into high gear.
Instead of waiting two years for possible funding from the state or federal government, a coalition of veterans and officials began planning to develop on the land in accordance with federal veterans cemetery standards, with the hopes of being repaid.
The City of Roswell allocated $75,000 this month to pay for improvements to install a water system, sprinklers, electrical work and a drive-up area, with the expectation of the city being selected as one of the state’s four rural sites.
The Veterans Cemetery Board expects to propose naming the cemetery the Roswell-McBride Veterans Cemetery, to honor the McBride family for its donation, said retired Col. Ron McKay.
The cemetery committee plans to first develop only one acre on the land and begin burying in February.
Monday’s dedication was “a long time coming,” for area veterans, said Bob Holley, a U.S. Navy veteran.
“I love it,” Holley said. The dedication “was beautiful.”
Steve Orlinski, a Vietnam War-era veteran, said he thought the turnout was terrific.
“I’m glad to have this kind of backing for something like this,” Orlinski said.
Orlinski said he plans to be buried in the veterans cemetery.
“My family is buried a couple blocks away,” Orlinski said, pointing across to the South Park Cemetery lots. “I’m going to be right next door.”
Jensen said seeing the local veterans
cemetery come together was “heartwarming.”
“I think with today’s administration, this was well needed. The present administration doesn’t seem to want to back the veterans,” Jensen said.
The ceremony included an invocation by Lt. Commander Glenn Thyrion, a retired U.S. Navy veteran.
“Some of us would not be standing here today if it were not for the sacrifice of others,” he said. “We will forever owe them our very lives. Some will rest under a Christian cross. Some under a Star of David, or other faiths. Some may have professed no faith while alive. But all who rest here will know the faith placed in them by their fellow warriors.”
Mayor Del Jurney thanked many people who made the project possible, especially Bert Eldridge, a Vietnam veteran who pursued the project from the start. “We would not be here today if Bert had not taken his stand,” Jurney said.
He proclaimed the day “Roswell Cemetery Day.”
“This is a project that’s been going on for quite some time,” Jurney said. “Let us hold high those defending our freedom and our way of life.”
State Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Dist. 66, said he plans to take a bill to the Legislature to seek $150,000 in funding to support the cemetery.
“This has been going on about three years. There’s been a lot of ups and downs but this finally came together. It’s going to be a great day when we put the first ones in and there’s going to be a lot more after that,” Wooley said.
Ray Willis, who has worked with the McBride family since 1956 said Monday’s celebration was a wonderful tribute to Douglas L McBride, who Eldridge said had a vision of the land someday becoming a veterans cemetery.
He and his wife had decided the night before to donate the funds to buy the mausoleum for the first 192 sets of ashes at the new cemetery.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing for the community and the McBride family is 100 percent behind it,” Willis said. “It’s all yours now. Make it work.”