Angel Fire Cemetery groundbreaking ceremony planned Oct. 26

Ceremony to launch construction phase of the Angel Fire State Veterans Cemetery set for 11 a.m. Friday (Oct. 26) at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire

The new cemetery will be located in a meadow just beyond the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Chronicle file photo)
The New Mexico Department of Veterans Services will host a Groundbreaking Ceremony Friday (Oct. 26) for the Angel Fire State Veterans Cemetery to be built in the meadow below the south side of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. For more information, contact DVS Public Information Officer Ray Seva at 505-827-6352 or ray.seva@state.nm.us.

This will be the third state veterans cemetery resulting from Governor Susana Martinez’s State Cemetery Initiative launched in 2013 to seek U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) funding for VA-funded but state-managed veterans cemeteries. In September 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awarded a $3,215,760 grant to fund the project.

Currently, the nearest national cemetery to Angel Fire is Santa Fe National Cemetery in Santa Fe, which is about 90 miles from Angel Fire. The new cemetery will provide service to approximately 15,700 veterans and their families in the area. The grant will will develop approximately 1.3 acres, including construction of a main entrance, roads, flag assembly area, maintenance building, 100 pre-place crypts, 200 columbarium niches, 100 cremation gravesites and a memorial wall in a beautifully landscaped setting in accordance with existing standards set by the VA for its national cemeteries.

(Chronicle file photo)
Angel Fire is home to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, established in 1968 by Victor and Jean Westphall to honor their son, Marine First Lieutenant David Westphall who was killed in action in 1968. The Peace and Brotherhood Chapel at the State Park, dedicated in 1971, was the first major Vietnam memorial in the United States. Each year, veterans participating in the Run for the Wall motorcycle ride make a stop in Angel Fire on the way to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

According to the state Department of Veterans Services website, in July 2013, Governor Susana Martinez announced the launch of the State Veterans’ Cemetery Program Initiative to seek grants through the VA’s Cemetery Grant Program to plan, design and build four Veterans’ Cemeteries in Ft. Stanton, Gallup, Angel Fire and Carlsbad to provide an easily accessible and honorable final resting place for parts of the state with large, underserved veteran populations.

When the initiative began, New Mexico — the mostly rural, fifth-largest state in the nation in terms of size — had just two national cemeteries: Santa Fe National Cemetery in Northern New Mexico, and Ft. Bayard National Cemetery in the southwestern part of the state. According to VA data, more than 150,000 veterans live beyond the VA’s designated 75-mile service-area radius of these two cemeteries.

For families of these veterans, the two locations are too far for consideration for burials. These families are relegated to burying their loved ones in local, non-veteran cemeteries—or face drives of several hours for future visitations.

The Governor launched the initiative to provide a solution for these rural-area veterans.

The Angel Fire cemetery will be the third state veterans’ cemetery resulting from the Governor’s State Cemetery Initiative.

“I’m pleased that we’ve secured full funding for the new State Veterans Cemetery in Angel Fire, said Gov. Martinez said. “This is great news for veterans and their families living in the northern part of our state. All veterans have earned the right to be buried in a place which honors their service and sacrifice to our country.”

The Ft. Stanton State Veterans Cemetery opened last November. Construction on the second cemetery, the Gallup State Veterans Cemetery, began last October. The fourth cemetery, to be built in Carlsbad, is undergoing the same pre-planning and pre-grant approval process used for the first three.

In announcing Angel Fire as one of her four choices, Martinez told The Chronicle in April 2014, “We felt that Angel Fire was very deserving, especially with the fact that it has the first nationally recognized Vietnam memorial. We wanted to honor that with a cemetery. One of the good deciding factors also was the direct road from the Clayton area direct into Angel Fire. There’s a very small veteran population out in that far northeast corner. But for access to those veterans, Angel Fire was one of the natural choices.”

New Mexico’s Democratic Congressional delegation all sent statements about the project:

U.S. Senator Tom Udall: “This new cemetery has been a long time coming, and I’ve proudly worked with veterans and families in Angel Fire and surrounding communities, the congressional delegation, and the state to help get this funding over the finish line. The Angel Fire veterans’ cemetery will be a fitting tribute to the service and sacrifice of New Mexico veterans, and it will help honor their memory by making it easier for veterans’ families in northeastern New Mexico to visit their loved ones. In the Senate, I will continue to work to honor New Mexico’s veterans and service members by making sure we serve them as well as they have served our nation.”

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich: “I’m proud to welcome this funding to build a veterans cemetery in Angel Fire to ensure families in northeastern New Mexico can visit their loved ones in a beautiful setting and without the burden of traveling hundreds of miles. I will continue to support additional veterans cemeteries in our state so that we can honor and respect the sacrifices our veterans from all corners of New Mexico made for our country.”

U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján: “Families and veterans in Angel Fire have long deserved access to a local cemetery where they can honor, mourn, and pay tribute to our nation’s service men and women,” said . “I will continue to work with the congressional delegation and local communities to ensure the creation of additional veteran’s cemeteries so all New Mexicans have the opportunity to pay their respects to our veterans.”

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