By Angela Peacock
Beautiful foreign women, opportunities to travel and a chance to earn cash were just a few reasons Robert Lumpkin signed up to become a U.S. Marine in 1964.
The one detail his recruiter forgot to mention was that he would be traveling as a soldier to Vietnam, along with an estimated 40,000 other troops in October 1965.
Lumpkin was the keynote speaker for Tuesday evening’s Veterans Day program at the Tucumcari High School Auditorium.
Serenading the audience before Lumpkin’s address was the Tucumcari Middle School band, which performed the “Star Spangled Banner,” followed by an invocation by First Christian Church Rev. James Witcher.
Tucumcari Schools Superintendent William Reents read a list of area men and women currently serving in the armed forces and the THS choir sang a variety of traditional and non-traditional patriotic songs including “Peace I Leave With You,” which was also performed in sign language by senior Tessa Mendez. Marcelina Maestas, 14, played drums during the performance.
“My dad (Benito) is a Vietnam veteran so I take this holiday very seriously,” Marcelina said. “My dad told me he learned in the military that he could handle anything by never giving up. He’s one of my heroes.”
In official dress, Louie Molinas Jr., Michael Romero and Alan Angel of the Tucumcari Knights of Columbus chapter performed posting and retiring of the colors ceremonies for the program.
“We’re very proud to be Americans and it’s our job as Knights of Columbus to show our patriotism and to show honor to past and present veterans,” Molinas said.
During his address, Lumpkin told the audience of the great friends he met during his combat days and why each of them made unforgettable impressions on his life.
Among the courageous men Lumpkin battled along side in Vietnam, the story of man who never carried a weapon nor attacked the enemy nearly evoked tears. Lumpkin said he was dumbfounded about a man he saw day after day cleaning the “mess hall.” The man told Lumpkin “I’m a conscientious objector, I don’t believe in war or killing.” The man had been ordered by a judge to feed American Vietnam troops. He never complained, which Lumpkin said gave him respect for the “conscientious objector.”
“Wars, conflicts, UN support, there are a lot of different names for what is going overseas, but for those giving up families, sacrificing freedoms, or watching friends die it doesn’t matter what they call it because they are there and we’re here so I applaud you for caring for those people,” Lumpkin said. “There is always controversy about war, but just like the conscientious objector, we all have the right not to believe in war. But nobody has the right to not support the troops.”