Veterans break ground on local cemetery

Veterans, friends and families gather to celebrate groundbreaking on Taos County Veterans Cemetery. (Photo by Cody Hooks, The Taos News)

After a celebratory morning in a field near the gorge of the Río Pueblo de Taos, veterans from Taos County are one step closer to having a final resting place nearer to home.

Taos County, the government entity behind the ongoing construction of a new veterans cemetery at the end of County Road 110, hosted a groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting Monday (Aug. 14).

A black steel fence wraps around the 10-acre cemetery that’s cleared of sage and planted with grass, where more than 200 people attended Monday’s event. Dignitaries included U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, Taos Pueblo War Chief Curtis Sandoval and elected officials, managers and employees for both Taos County and the town of Taos. Veterans representing several conflicts and branches of armed forces stood at the back of the crowd, holding flags that flapped in the mesa wind.

“Taos and the surrounding communities have contributed so much to our armed forces,” said Luján, a four-term congressman who represents 15 counties in Northern New Mexico. “This is an example of what’s great in our country.”

Taos County embarked on an effort in 2014 to build a local veterans cemetery because, as New Mexico Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, put the issue, “our national veteran cemetery in Santa Fe is filling up.”

Indeed, Gov. Susana Martinez initiated a state-level veterans cemetery program under the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services in 2013 to serve as a complement to larger national cemeteries.

Martinez’s plan called for the construction of four veterans cemeteries over five years. After touring 10 sites, including Taos, the Martinez administration chose Fort Stanton, Gallup, Carlsbad and Angel Fire in neighboring Colfax County.

Though Taos did not secure one of the governor’s first designations and the funding that would follow it, the county has pursued the project under the guidance of of local veteran Francis Cordova. Luján called Cordova a “bright star and humble leader.”

The cemetery received an initial $200,000 from the Legislature, while a total of nearly $385,000 has been spent on the cemetery so far, according to Taos County Commissioner Jim Fambro. At least another $1 million is needed to install crypts – a prerequisite to interring veterans. Fambro said the county will continue finding the money to complete the cemetery, which sits on a piece of property that was once considered for the Taos County Administrative/Judicial Complex.

The cemetery, Fambro said, “will honor our past, present and future veterans.”