By Michael Ritterhouse and Gabriel Weinstein
Tuesday (Nov. 11), our country will come together to honor our nation’s veterans. Here in Northern New Mexico, every day feels like veterans day. Many local residents served proudly in our armed forces. Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park and the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center are two of our nation’s most treasured resources for veterans. In this week’s issue The Chronicle sat down with local veterans to honor the people that sacrifice their time and effort for the betterment of our country.
Most teenagers celebrate their 18th birthdays with friends and family. Angel Fire resident Raymond “Frank” Pierce celebrated his on a Navy boat.
He joined the Navy in 1962 as a 17-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona. Military tradition runs deep in Pierce’s family. His father served in the Army Air Corps in World War II. One of his uncles perished during the war.
Pierce joined the Navy as a boatswain and retired as a Master-at-Arms Chief in 1981.
Growing up, Pierce never imagined he would ride past a group of cheering villagers in the Philippines or be on a Navy ship the day Saigon fell to the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Vietcong. Those are just a two of the many stops Pierce made during his naval career.
He explored Mombasa , strolled through cosmopolitan Hong Kong, was stationed off Cameron Bay in Vietnam, cruised the open waters of the Indian Ocean and lived in England.
“It was more than a job. It was an adventure,” Pierce said.
Pierce filled a variety of roles during his career. In his early years as a boatswain, he cleaned the decks, inspected cranes and made sure cargo got to its proper location.
Later in his career, he investigated crimes as a Naval Police Officer while stationed on the U.S.S. Enterprise. He investigated murders, thefts, rapes and drug cases.
Over the course of his career, Pierce watched the complexion and social dynamics of the Navy shift. When he started, he said many of the waiters, known as stewards, were Filipinos and African Americans. There were hardly any opportunities for women to advance to management positions. In his early years in the Navy, Pierce said there was a subtle attitude of racism.
During Pierce’s tenure in the Navy, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The passage of Title IX in 1972 was a major milestone for women’s equality.
“There was a lot more opportunity. Things were changing,” Pierce said about the state of the Navy toward the end of his career.
After leaving the Navy, Pierce had a career in sales and operated his own fishing shop in southern California. His time in the Navy gave him the people skills and work ethic he needed to succeed in the civilian world.
These days, Pierce doesn’t talk about his career in the Navy that much. It comes up when he’s tending bar at the Laguna Vista in Eagle Nest. Customers often ask him about his experience after spotting his anchor tattoo.
Today Pierce likes to spend his time plotting his next hunting or fishing adventure in New Mexico or Arizona. When he’s not behind the bar at the Laguna Vista, he’s in his home office preparing fishing flies. Whether he’s exploring a new fishing hole or helping a customer, the values of the Navy are always with Pierce.
Not all draftees during the Vietnam War went to Vietnam. Vernon Garcia, a regular at the Eagle Nest Senior Center, is one of those veterans.
Garcia was assigned to work in a spare shop for the Army in Stuttgart, Germany from 1968 to 1971.
“I had it easy,” he said.
Garcia relished his time off from the army. He had a friend in the personnel section who would give him train tickets in exchange for telling him about good fishing spots. The arrangement gave Garcia the opportunity to travel all over Germany and Europe.
“The best fishing was in the mountains around Rome,” he said.
After his time in the service Garcia came back home to Cochiti Pueblo. He started at the Cochiti Community Development Corporation (CCDC) as a laborer at the golf course, eventually working his way up to head greens-keeper in 1997.
He was eventually promoted to manager of the recreation center, store manager and ultimately took a job in the pueblo’s environmental office testing soils and water. He is now retired.
Garcia passed down the military tradition to his son Jon. He joined the Army and was an Airborne Ranger for about two years. The younger Garcia was stationed in the United States and was never stationed abroad. His younger son lives in Albuquerque and works in environmental science.
All three Garcia men are active in Cochiti Pueblo. Vernon and Jon are “full participants in the Pueblo.” Vernon is a drummer and a councilman. He is also a former governor of the tribe of about 1,000. He says that the entire tribe is about 1,500. Jon is an active dancer in the Pueblo, while Ian dances, but isn’t as active.
Reflecting on his time as the governor of the tribe Garcia said, “It was fun being responsible for all the decisions… being involved in the everyday life of the people, in every way they want to.”
Cori Jenkins joined the U.S. Navy in October 1991 spontaneously.
“I went to the mall and walked in (to the Naval Recruiting Station) at the spur of the moment.”
At the time Jenkins didn’t want to go to college. She’s never regretted that decision.
“I loved it,” she said.
Jenkins, who has lived in Red River since early 2004, was a member of the Navy from 1991 until the end of 1994 when she was given the opportunity to receive a reassignment or early retirement due to her duty station getting closed down.
“I didn’t want to re-up,… I didn’t have the career mindset,” said Jenkins.
After boot camp Jenkins was assigned to U.S.S. Frank Cable, the repair ship for submarine squadrons in Charleston, South Carolina. There she tended Sturgeon-class attack submarines and Benjamin Franklin-class ballistic missile submarines.
She was later assigned to the U.S.S. Alamogordo, a floating dry dock used for submarine maintenance and repair work. On the Alamogordo she was a fireman and diesel mechanic, responsible for boat operation and weapons removal. One of Jenkins’ major tasks on the Alamogordo was to help her team remove submarine weapons before vessel maintenance.
The Navy provided Jenkins with a tight, close knit community. The substation to which she was assigned was small and her unit and the Navy SEALS were the only ones who bunked on land contributing to the family feel.
“It was a whole sense of family,” Jenkins said.
The serious nature of the work never escaped her though.
“[It] was like a job,” she said.
Jenkins said her military experience gave her honor, pride, leadership skills and a sense of what is right or wrong.
“One of the most important things it gave me was a sense of accountability, of being accountable for your mistakes,” Jenkins said.
As a mother of three, Jenkins finds herself passing along her military lessons to her three children.
After leaving the Navy, Jenkins moved back to her hometown of Amarillo and joined her mother in insurance adjusting and worked as an office manager for A and R Mechanical. She eventually met and married her husband Wayne Jenkins and they soon decided to move to Red River.
The military was a positive experience for Jenkins and one she recommends.
“I’d encourage people to join the military,” she said.
When Anthony Martinez arrived to the 2nd and 75th artillery’s 5th Corps in Fligerhorst, Germany in 1972, his fellow soldiers were confused.
“Most of the people didn’t know New Mexico was a state,” he said. “They all thought it was Mexico. They’d say ‘How did you get into the U.S. Army You’re from Mexico?’ [I’d say] ‘No. I am from New Mexico.’”
From September 1972- September 1974, Martinez was stationed in Germany during the height of the Vietnam War. Martinez’s draft number was 19 and the Army was taking draft numbers up to 135. Rather than wait and be drafted Martinez enlisted.
“I didn’t have much of a choice,” he said. “My buddies that didn’t [enlist] went a month after I did. I knew I was going so I went ahead and did it.”
Military tradition ran deep on both sides of Martinez’s family. On his mother’s side he had two uncles that served in the Army and Navy. His father served in the Navy during the Korean War and his father’s brothers were in the Air Force and Army.
At first the military was a shock for Martinez. He had never been outside the southwest before his service. The Army exposed him to soldiers from the swamps and forests of the South the country’s bustling metropolises. The soldiers swapped techniques about hunting and fishing and told stories of their lives back home, Martinez said.
Martinez was a truck driver and helped handle ammunitions. He hauled ammunition and gun powder for an eight inch artillery unit.
He and his fellow soldiers were in a service battery. They handled the kitchen, the motor pool and other things in the battery.
The mood of the army reflected the tensions bubbling in American society. Martinez said there was racial tension between blacks and whites. Like all the soldiers in his unit, he attended race relations classes. As a Hispanic, Martinez said he never faced any discrimination or animosity.
“The Black guys accepted me because I wasn’t white. The white guys accepted me because I wasn’t black,” he said.
Martinez regularly interacted with other soldiers passing through the base on their way back home after stints in Vietnam. The strain of war was visible on some of the soldiers, while others showed no effects from the horrors they witnessed Martinez said.
“It was a rough war for those guys that were there,” he said. “
After his service in 1974, Martinez returned to Cimarron and built a life in the village. He has worked at the Philmont Scout Ranch for 34 years and is the supervisor of the ranch’s carpentry shop. In between his work commitments and volunteering with the Cimarron Fire Department, he found time to be the Scout Master for Boy Scout Troop 68 and spend time with his wife and three children.
Throughout the years the military remained a part of Martinez’s core. After his active duty ended, he served with Army National Guard units in Kansas and New Mexico for six-and-a-half years.
The lessons he learned about leadership, determination. teamwork and commitment from the Army have guided him during his 37 years with the Cimarron Fire Department. He has used the skills he gained from the Army to teach Cimarron firefighters safe firefighting techniques.
“I learned that trust is I learned to trust my brother firefighter and brother soldier. If they got my back then I’ve got their backs,” he said. “If you’re going to go into a burning building you’ve got to have somebody watching your back or if you’re leading you’re watching their back.”
Today he is active with the Cimarron Veterans Group and the Cimarron Veterans Memorial. Martinez’s involvement with veterans groups is his way of saying thank you to veterans who were in combat and sacrificed for him and the American people.