Filed under: Activities & Attractions, Family Camping, Family Day Trips, Family Weekend Trips, Historic Places & Landmarks
Thank You Veterans
This year on Veteran’s Day, my brother in law, Dennis, was visiting with us for the week. While Veteran’s Day had never meant too much to me as neither my husband nor I have served in the military, it meant a great deal to Dennis. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Dennis wears a cap proudly proclaiming his service most places he goes. Therefore, we thought it only appropriate that we should take him to visit this country’s first Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial during his visit. And, what better time to visit than ON Veteran’s Day.
Dennis had no idea that such a memorial existed in our nearby little town of Angel Fire, New Mexico. In fact, most people have no idea this place exists. The memorial was constructed from 1969-1971 and opened in 1971 by Dr. Victor Westphall and his wife, Jeanne. The couple had purchased the 800 acre Val Verde Ranch in Angel Fire in the 1960’s with plans to build a resort there. Nestled in the lovely Moreno Valley between several mountains, it was a lovely location for a resort. The ranch was the last place their son, David, visited before he was deployed to Vietnam. When David was killed in an ambush on May 22, 1968 with 15 other soldiers in Con Thien, Vietnam, the Westphalls decided that money from a life insurance policy on David’s life should be spent to erect a permanent memorial to his life and service.
The modern structure was designed by a Santa Fe architect and was our nation’s first major Vietnam Memorial. Eventually the Westphalls sold all but the five acres of land on which the memorial was situated to finance the construction and maintenance of the project. It consists of the Peace and Brotherhood Chapel, as well as a Visitor Center, an indoor movie room, contemplation garden and an outdoor amphitheater. Eventually the State of New Mexico took over management of the property and designated it as a state park. It is the only state park dedicated exclusively to Vietnam veterans.
It was a moving experience to visit the memorial on Veteran’s Day. Of course there was a service with past and current military personnel present. It is filled with photos and memorabilia of a soldier’s life in Vietnam. Dennis was quite moved by his experience there and would like to go back when the weather is a bit warmer (it was 20 degrees and snowy when we visited!) to be able to sit in the outdoor areas set aside for contemplation. A full size statue, entitled “Dear Mom and Dad” donated by Taos, NM artist Doug Scott, depicts a
soldier’s struggle to keep in touch with those back home without sharing the horror of what he is experiencing. The statue was dedicated on Memorial Day, 2003. Also on the grounds are two full sized Huey helicopters that served their country as well. Our visit was indeed a powerful experience, for all three of us!
Dennis has discussed with us the difficulty coming home to a nation that did not appreciate your service fighting in a war many did not support. Every year on Memorial Day, there is a motorcycle ride from Red River, NM to the Memorial. Bikers come from all over the country to participate in this ride. If you are looking for a significant and meaningful destination for your Memorial Day camping trip, this would be one worth considering. And, to all veterans of any conflict, thank you for your service! We owe you one!
To find your destination for that Memorial Day visit, browse Woodall’s listings of New Mexico RV camping resorts.