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Roswell remembers fallen and surviving soldiers

Members of local troops of the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, including Roswell’s first all-girl Boy Scout group, hold wreaths honoring the different branches of the military, as well as Purple Heart recipients, prisoners of war and the missing in action, during the Saturday morning Veterans Day ceremony at the Chaves County Courthouse. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Dozens of veterans and area residents gathered at the Chaves County Courthouse on a brisk Saturday morning during a Veterans Day celebration for local and U.S. veterans, especially those who fought in the Korean War.

Members of the Patriot Guard join other vehicles and walkers during a convoy Saturday morning from the courthouse to the Wool Bowl as part of the local Veterans Day ceremony. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

“We pray for those who have served our nation, who have laid down their lives to protect and defend our freedom,” said American Legion Post 61 Chaplain Mark Rowland as part of his opening prayer. “Turn the hearts and minds of our leaders and our enemies to the work of justice and the harvest of peace.”

The event was organized by the two American Legion posts in Roswell, Post 28 and the Norman E. Harpole Post 61.

The ceremony also included the reading of the names of the 12 Chaves County residents who died in the Korean War. In addition, there were presentations of the U.S. and state flags by the Roswell Honor Guard; the laying of wreaths in tribute to the armed forces assisted by Cub Scout Troop 26, Boy Scouts Troop 149 and the all-girl Boy Scout Troop 7; performances of patriotic songs by Tom Blake and Elizabeth Morales; remarks about the history of the “forgotten” war by guest of honor John Wortman; and a convoy along Main Street that ended at the Wool Bowl.

Post 61 Commander Stephen Lee said that the tribute, traditionally held around the Veterans Day holiday on Nov. 11, is an opportunity for veterans to give to each other and the community.

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“With the COVID-19 situation, everyone is anxious to come out and back to our traditional values,” he said. “Veterans always have been held closely to heart in Roswell, and it warms my heart to see so many people here.”

Lee explained that, during recent years, the annual ceremony has recognized a specific war or armed conflict, with the military actions taken in chronological order. This year, the “never-ending war” was remembered.

Wortman of Dexter served in South Korea during the war. He said the conflict had its origins in 1910 with the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula. The Korean War itself lasted from 1950 to 1953 and was primarily between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea, and the Republic of Korea, or South Korea. But it also involved the Soviet Union and China, which supported North Korea, and the U.S.-led United Nations forces, allies of South Korea. To this day, the peninsula region remains in a technical state of war, with a demilitarized zone separating the two nations.

“It was never-ending because no peace treaty was ever signed. South Korea did not want to sign a treaty,” said Wortman, a U.S. Army officer for 28 years and a former chair of the New Mexico Livestock Board and executive vice president of the New Mexico Farm Bureau.

Wortman said his service in South Korea gave him a deeper appreciation of the United States.

“The one thing that I can say about it is, that it is probably the time I was the most proud and most thankful to be an American,” he said. “The poverty and the way the people lived, what I saw in the country, it was the type of thing that made you say, ‘Well, thank goodness I am an American.’ “

U.S. Air Force veteran Mike Doyle of Roswell watches the Roswell Veterans Day ceremony Saturday at the Chaves County Courthouse with his son and daughter. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

After the ceremony and the convoy escorted by Chaves County sheriff’s deputies and a Roswell Fire Department truck, people gathered in the parking lot of the Wool Bowl where a few groups were distributing free food, water, clothing and other free items to veterans and first responders. Those groups included the American Legion Post 61 Auxiliary, an Artesia affiliate of the national nonprofit Operation Gratitude and a coalition of the Roswell High School Student Council and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell.

Originally known as Armistice Day, Veterans Day was established on Nov. 11 to remember the end of World War I in 1918. It has been a federal holiday since 1938.

Several other events have been scheduled to honor veterans this year.

• Nov. 11: A distribution of goodie bags for veterans will occur at Valley View Elementary School, 1400 S. Washington Ave., 10 a.m. to noon, coordinated by Roswell High School and ENMU-R.

• Nov. 11: ENMU-R and the Roswell Independent School District will post videos as a “virtual celebration of veterans” on their websites, www.roswell.enmu.edu and www.risd.k12.nm.us.

• Dec. 5: Post 61 is hosting an open house to assist veterans, Roswell Chamber of Commerce, 131 W. Second St., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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