New Mexico boasts a military history including the Buffalo Soldiers, Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, the Tuskegee Airmen, Navajo Code Talkers, and a commitment to service from the Mexican-American War through both world wars to today’s war on terrorism.
The New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial pays tribute to the state’s military history and veterans on a 25-acre complex in Albuquerque at the base of the Sandia Mountains. Around 500 trees and 400 rosebushes create a solemn setting for the outdoor memorial that takes up most of the 25 acres.
The state became the first in the nation to honor all of its Vietnam War combat deaths with a display in the museum, said Roger Knight, the president of the 19-person board that oversees the complex. In the museum, a large glass case houses the names and photos of New Mexico servicemembers who were killed in Vietnam, including Kenneth Lee Worley, a Medal of Honor recipient.
“We’re the first state to come up with a photograph of every individual that was killed due to hostile action (in Vietnam),” Knight said of the nearly 400 heroes. “It took two or three years to find all of them. The last two were very difficult (to track down) because they were Navajo youngsters. They couldn’t find the parents. Finally, they found some relatives.”
Tour buses have visited from every state in the nation except Hawaii and Alaska, says Knight, who was a Green Beret in the Army and is a member of American Legion Post 99 in Albuquerque.
A highlight of the tour is a memorial rose garden that leads to an area designed to recreate common memories for veterans such as “The Call,” “The Battle,” “The Word from Home,” “The Fallen Friend” and “The Homecoming.” For example, “The Word from Home” is a display that uses authentic letters from veterans’ loved ones.
Most of the visitors are not veterans. “But for those who served, there’s always a part in here that tickles their memories,” Knight said. “I always think about basic training myself.”
Among other items of note inside and outside the museum, which opened in early 2000:
- A special collection featuring Medal of Honor recipients. The display will soon grow from four to six when recipients Leroy Petrie and Drew Dix are added. Per capita, New Mexico has the largest number of Medal of Honor recipients of any U.S. state.
- A statue of a World War II officer shooting a tire on his broken-down Jeep which was sculpted by cartoonist Bill Mauldin. Mauldin, who was raised on a small farm in Otero County, N.M., entered the Army in 1940 and his cartoons depicting experiences of GIs soon became a hit with the troops. He received his first Pulitzer Prize in 1945. His statute at the museum serves as a tribute to his legacy.
- A working periscope from a Sturgeon-class nuclear submarine that was used during the Cold War.
- A large bell tower that plays songs and hymns such as the “The Star Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”
A photo gallery of the New Mexico Veterans' Memorial can be found here.