by Lillian Eva Lieske
ANGEL FIRE — On Tuesday, September 18, 2018, Governor Suzanna Martinez, announced the US Department of Veterans Affairs has officially approved funding to cover the cost of construction for the New Mexico Veterans Cemetery in Angel Fire. Along with the Governor, US Senators for NM Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich, as well as US Rep for NM Ben Ray Lujan, also announced the grant.
The Veterans Administration (VA) will grant a total of $3.2 million to the projected cost of the 1.3 acres, 400 gravesite cemetery, which is directly next to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire.
This is according to the press release issued by the governor’s office. Chuck Howe, a Vietnam veteran and Mayor Pro Tem of Angel Fire, who is also president of the nonprofit David Westphall Foundation, which is behind the memorial, stated “We started it about four years ago and, have been going through the process since then. It’s important for New Mexico Veterans and their families to have a cemetery close. The only federal cemetery in New Mexico is located in Santa Fe.” Howe also said that several families are holding on to their veteran’s ashes so they can be buried in the future cemetery in Angel Fire.
Udall said in a statement, “This new cemetery has been a long time coming, and I’ve proudly worked with veterans and families in Angel Fire and surrounding communities, the congressional delegation, and the state to help get this funding over the finish line. The Angel Fire veterans’ cemetery will be a fitting tribute to the service and sacrifice of New Mexico veterans, and it will help honor their memory by making it easier for veterans’ families in northeastern New Mexico to visit their loved ones. In the Senate, I will continue to work to honor New Mexico’s veterans and service members by making sure we serve them as well as they have served our nation.”
“I’m proud to welcome this funding to build a veterans cemetery in Angel Fire to ensure families in northeastern New Mexico can visit their loved ones in a beautiful setting and without the burden of traveling hundreds of miles,” Heinrich said. “I will continue to support additional veteran’s cemeteries in our state so we can honor and respect the sacrifices our veterans from all corners of New Mexico made for our country.”
Lujan also added, “Families and veterans in Angel Fire have long deserved access to a local cemetery where they can honor, mourn, and pay tribute to our nation’s service men and women. I will continue to work with the congressional delegation and local communities to ensure the creation of additional veteran’s cemeteries so all New Mexicans have the opportunity to pay their respects to our veterans.”
Angel Fire is home to Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park, which was established in 1968 by Victor and Jean Westphall to honor their son, Marine First Lieutenant David Westphall, who was killed in action in 1968. The Peace and Brotherhood Chapel at the State Park, dedicated in 1971, was the first major Vietnam memorial in the United States.
Every year, veterans participating in the “Run for the Wall” motorcycle rally stop in Angel Fire while on their way to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. This event gives riders, some of whom are veterans themselves, the opportunity to pay their respects to their fallen comrades and deceased friends. To have a cemetery next to the memorial would not only give the families a place to mourn and visit but, would give the “Run For the Wall” event an additional place to pay tribute to these veterans as well. The money from this grant will fund the construction of the main entrance, roads, flag assembly area, maintenance building, 100 pre-placed crypts, 200 columbarium niches as well as, 100 cremation gravesites, and memorial walls. The project will serve approximately 15,700 New Mexico veterans and eligible family members. For more information on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial please visit thedavidwestphallfoundation.org.