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Vietnam veterans ceremony canceled

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A ceremony to honor Chaves County’s Vietnam veterans has been canceled due to concerns about coronavirus, but its organizers hope the spirit of it will be remembered.

“Most of our veterans are elderly, including me, and we don’t want to take chances,” Santiago Vasquez said Monday of the ceremony that had been scheduled for March 29, Vietnam War Veterans Day, at American Legion Post No. 28, 1620 N. Montana Ave.

Vasquez, who saw combat while serving in the 9th Infantry from 1968 to 1969, was organizing the event with Orlando Padilla, who was a door gunner on a Huey helicopter with the 1st Air Cavalry Division.

A highlight of the event was to be the reading of the names of the 22 servicemen from Chaves County who were killed in action in Vietnam. Family members of some had been invited to read their loved ones’ names, but there are some that the post does not have any family information for, Vasquez said.

“We don’t know whether some of the family members are still alive, or still in the area, but we want to get the word out to them,” Vasquez said.

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“We don’t want to forget these individuals that gave their lives in Vietnam. As is often the case, once those family members who have ties to that individual, once they pass on, then it’s easy to forget. We don’t want to forget,” he said.

The pair also wants to make sure veterans know they are not alone in what they may be dealing with mentally and physically since leaving the service. They said there are about 7,000 veterans living in Chaves County, from the World War II era to the latest veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The two men are especially interested in helping Vietnam veterans since those men and women did not receive the welcome home that their predecessors from World War II did.

“It was a difficult time during the Vietnam war, and so they have not really been given the due, their respect. And we want to do that,” Vasquez said.

Both consider themselves lucky in that they were able to go on to productive lives after the service. But that’s not to say they didn’t have difficulties. Both have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and were exposed to Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide and defoliant used by the military in Vietnam.

“Santiago and I, we were never diagnosed with PTSD until we retired from our jobs. All during that time, it was pretty hard dealing with all that,” Padilla said.

“We’re pretty blessed to get compensated after we retired from our jobs, but there’s other veterans, Vietnam veterans, that weren’t as lucky,” he said.

“We’re very lucky we’re at a place we are now,” Vasquez said. “And because of that, we want to help other Vietnam veterans.”

Although the Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony has been canceled, Vasquez and Padilla would like to make contact with any family members of the men for planning future ceremonies. Family members can call Vasquez at 575-840-9373 or Padilla at 575-317-1070.

The 22 men from Chaves County who died in Vietnam are: John Adams, Abelardo Araujo, Rodney J. Black, Monty Doyal Boyer, Melvin Carrillo, Larry Paul Compos, John R. Cummins, George R. De Shurley, James L. Foster, Robert L. Graham, William C. Jones, Billie J. Marling, Sammy Chacon Romero, Trine Romero, Hecter M. Saenz, Cresencio P. Sanchez, Jose L. Sanchez, Julius M. Sanders, Gerald S. Simons, Arturo S. Sisneros, Bennie L. West and Lovan S. Wilson.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.