By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
When the rest of the nation declared March 22 as Welcome Home Vietnam Vets day, Tucumcari’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2528 took it a step further.
“We decided to use this day to welcome home all veterans from all wars,” said Fred Porter, president of Tucumcari’s Delfinio Gonzalez post the VFW.
On Saturday, the post held ceremonies and a luncheon to welcome home two veterans of World War II, one Korean War veteran, six Vietnam vets, four Iraq war veterans and one veteran of the campaign in Afghanistan.
About 60 veterans, VFW members and guests attended the ceremony and heard two guest speakers, both colonels in the armed forces, talk about their careers and their views of military service.
Col. David Wiesner, of the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Cannon Air Force Base, Clovis, talked about his career that included duty in Germany to support the Kosovo war and supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, the second Iraq campaign that began in 2003. He also served in Korea, as well as additional Middle East assignments.
“I got a hero’s welcome,” he said. “Which is not true of Vietnam veterans.”
The nation, he said, learned a hard lesson with Vietnam veterans, that no matter how one feels about a particular war, the nations must always be grateful to the veterans who fought there.
Col. Timothy Paul, of the New Mexico National Guard, told the audience that one of the best ways to honor veterans is to vote, exercising in the most responsible way the freedom that U.S. armed forces have fought to maintain.
“If you don’t vote,” he said. “You have no choice.”
He aimed that message at young people of voting age.
“What our duty is as veterans is to tell young people to get out the vote,” he said.
As faulty as American democracy can seem at times,” he said. “We do it better than 99 percent of the rest of the world.”
He said Tucumcari “is an important part the state and nation.”
Paul advised his Tucumcari audience, “Make sure your voice is heard.”
He also singled out Vietnam veterans and told the audience to “say thanks to every Vietnam veteran you see.”
Porter reminded the audience that Delfinio Gonzalez, in whose honor the Tucumcari VFW post is named, was the first Quay County resident killed in action in World War I. Gonzalez was killed in 1918 during World War I in France, he said.
Paul said VFW members do much more than swap war stories at a bar. They are involved with assuring that veterans use the benefits they have earned in community activities.
“Besides, most of us don’t tell war stories because we don’t want to remember some things,” he added.
New Mexico Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, cited speeches of both former President Ronald Reagan and President Barak Obama that illustrated how welcoming home veterans is a non-partisan duty.
Veterans represent citizens from all ethnic and cultural groups and all walks of life, he said, adding that it’s a shame that Vietnam veterans did not receive the welcome they deserved when they came home.
Roch quoted President Obama, who said of Vietnam vets, “You were denigrated when you should have been celebrated.”
Ron Wilmot, field representative for U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., said the nation must ensure that veterans receive the benefits they have earned, in addition to honoring their service.
Paul Elam, a local singer, performed the songs “God Bless the USA” and “Some Gave All.”
Olana Romero sang the national anthem to help open the ceremony.
Deacon Bobby Welch opened and closed the ceremony with prayers.