The city of Socorro celebrated Veterans Day much like it does most years: with a ceremony in Isidro Baca Park that was co-hosted by the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans. The observance featured speeches from politicians and a general, bagpipe playing, a presentation of colors by the Civil Air Patrol and a rifle salute from the DAV Honor Guard.
Army veteran Frank Tafoya tries to attend the event every year. Even now that the Polvadera native has moved away from New Mexico, the ceremony draws him back.
“Except last year I didn’t get a chance because the Covid was so bad.”
Tucked in his pocket was a black and white photo of another veteran, his father Fidel.
“My first cousins were killed in Vietnam,” said Tafoya. “All of them within the same time — ’67, ’69.”
Fellow veteran Ernie Lopez also has a history of family military service.
“I have a great-great-grandfather from the Civil War. Fort Craig. He was in the battle at Val Verde. And then my grandfather was a WWI veteran and my dad was Korea and then I have brothers that served also.”
Veterans represented 8.4 percent of New Mexico’s population in 2019, compared to 6.9 percent of the national population, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions 2020 Veterans Profile.
“There are very few states that can match New Mexico state in per capita service to our nation,” said speaker Doug Wells, New Mexico Tech vice president.
A New Mexico Tech representative introduced the proclamation that New Mexico Tech is a Purple Heart university, which is meant to demonstrate the school’s commitment to developing a veteran-friendly campus.
Military service was a family tradition for speaker US Army Brig. General Eric D. Little, the White Sands Missile Range Commanding General. Little reflected on moments that shaped him, like the awe he felt watching his older brother return from basic training with his new buzzed haircut, watching Marines in a parade with his aunt who was serving in the Marine Corps, and raising his right hand with his oldest son and swearing him into the Army.
“For me, Veterans Day also means recognizing the sacrifice our families make,” Little told the crowd. “I think of returning home from exercises and deployments and my faithful loving children were there proud, open arms, to welcome me home. Family members are not the ones who raise their hands to swear an oath, but they most certainly share the sacrifice, so I’m also very grateful for the families of our veterans.”
Another speaker and veteran, Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker, reflected on the importance of offering veterans tangible support.
“We’re able to see veterans in our clinic now because they’re letting us see outpatients instead of having to go 80 miles, and those are the things that I think need to honor veterans—the real things that are everyday things that they need. Jobs, medical care, benefits. And we in the city of Socorro really attempt to do that because our heart is with the veterans,” said Bhasker.
The ceremony also featured a display of a clay sculpture by John Chavez, which he donated to the local DAV chapter. Chavez named the piece ‘Imprisoned,’ because “We left the war and the war has never left us,” he said.