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New Vietnam War memorial for Las Cruces set to open

A new Vietnam veterans memorial in Las Cruces is nearing it’s grand opening at the end of this month after more than eight years in the works.

The monument at Veterans Memorial Park will officially open March 28, but won’t be completely done for some time yet.

The monument will honor all New Mexicans who served in the Vietnam War, and will feature the names and faces of the 398 killed in action from across the state.

The groundbreaking was held a year ago, but some features will take a little longer to finish. When complete, the monument will also feature a Red Cross Huey helicopter, positioned as if coming into land.

The entire project was started years ago, but gathering funding to construcy it was held up by the Great Recession.

The monument will have a theme of “heroes never thanked,” and have the symbols of hope that veterans looked for on the battlefields of Vietnam.

“So that’s what this will be,” said Joe Martinez, founder of the memorial project. “A symbol of freedom but also of a symbol of survival. And the tail rotor of that Huey, when its in place, will be 65 feet off the ground, so its going to be quite a landmark and the city of Las Cruces.”

“This is not a monument to the Vietnam War, said Bruce Fonnest, a Vietnam veteran. “This is a monument honoring the veterans that served, and especially honoring the ones that gave their all.”

Even with the conflict long over, the symbols and meaning of a monument are important to the veterans

For the loved ones of “heroes never thanked” and the ones who made it back, it means a lot, including those who had some of the hardest jobs in the war.

“I was a tunnel rat that went down into the tunnels with a flashlight and pistol,” said Lawrence Orvis, chairman of the Las Cruces veterans advisory board.

Orvis spent two tours of duty in Vietnam between 1966 and 1968. His job: to enter the Viet Cong tunnels and clear them out.

“And some times you had to take care of business,” Orvis said. “And when you came back out of the tunnel, the underground tunnel, you just had to pop a pin on a hand grenade, toss it down and walk away, and take care of business.”

For veterans like Orvis, the monument symbolizes hope, healing and remembrance with the names and faces of the fallen, and the chopper, something soldiers looked for bringing supplies and rescue on the battlefield.

The monument’s purpose is also to thank the veterans who served, something that their generation was denied, or even worse.

“It’s finally showing some appreciation for the veteran that served in Vietnam, and that they never got when the came back,” Fonnest said. “I personally never got that feeling, but a lot of guys got spit on when they come back.”

“This monument means so much,” Orvis said. “It’s a reflection back on something we never got when we came home. And this is quite a resemblance to bring back the memories of our lost comrades.”

Fundraising efforts are still going on to make sure the full final design will be completed.

For more information on how you can donate, call Tom Whatley at (575) 649-2256.

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