TOME“This is terrific, a blessing,” said Tomé veteran Alex Gutierrez as he watched volunteers from across Valencia County trim trees, rake leaves and haul off old unused items from his property. 

Forty years in the same place had led to the acquisition of a “lot of stuff,” Gutierrez said.  

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photos
Korean and Vietnam veteran Alex Gutierrez, right, chats with one of the more than two dozen volunteers who descended on his small home in Tomé on March 23 to help him organize and clean up his property.

On Saturday, March 23, dozens of people trekked out to his little A-frame house on the ditchbank to help clean up and organize his property. 

Donald Mondragon, with American Legion Post 81, Chapter 25, said Gutierrez’ neighbor told him the Korean and Vietnam veteran might need some help. Mondragon works for the VA, transporting veterans to medical appointments in Albuquerque. 

While the VA doesn’t provide direct services for veterans with needs like Gutierrez, they will reach out to regional and local organizations to find help. 

In addition to removing unwanted and nonfunctional items from veteran Alex Gutierrez’s Tomé property, volunteers cut down several dead trees and cleared undergrowth he was physically unable to manage anymore.

“We started reaching out to local groups about a month ago. This isn’t just our chapter,” Mondragon said. “This is really great to see so many people out here. We got a lot of work done so far this morning.” 

He said Cabezon Wounded Warrior Haven was also contacted, and was able to pull in additional resources, such as electricians and plumbers if Gutierrez needed. 

Chain saws buzzed and lines of wheelbarrows mushed back and forth between the property and the lime green roll-offs contributed by Sanchez Demolition. Members of American Legion Post 81, American Legion Post 85 and Rider Chapter 29, Calvary Chapel New Harvest in Los Lunas and the Bosque Farms 4-H chapter also turned out to lend a lot of helping hands. 

“We’re here for our veterans. We teach our kids to give back to the community and pay it forward,” said Karrie Waid, one of the adult leaders of the Bosque Farms 4-H chapter. “This is a community service project for the chapter, and several of the kids go to (School of Dreams Academy) and will get credit for community services hours there. My dad is a Marine, so this is a rewarding thing to do.” 

Waid said helping Gutierrez get and keep his property and home organized would be a continual project for the chapter. 

Gutierrez grew up in Albuquerque’s Old Town and moved to Tomé about 40 years ago after six years in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War, seven and a half years with the U.S. Army Special Forces, serving during the Vietnam conflict and a brief 17 days in Grenada. 

Gutierrez left the special forces as a sergeant major and the Marines as a master gunnery sergeant. He then went on to work for the Veterans Association in Albuquerque as a deputy commander, dedicating his life to helping veterans.  

Volunteers organize and clean up veteran Alex Gutierrez’ property on a cloudy Saturday. Two dumpsters, donated by Sanchez Demolition, were filled and hauled off during the clean up.

He also left the service with a Silver Star and shrapnel in his right arm from action in Vietnam. After two helicopters crashed in the same hot zone, and with his fellow soldiers dead and injured, Gutierrez made the decision to man the 50 caliber door gun on one of the downed helicopters and began firing on enemy combatants to protect the squad. 

As he talks about firing the massive gun “until the barrel got hot,” Gutierrez begins to weep at the memory.  

When he was presented with the Silver Star in Bethesda Hospital in California, he was told he killed 26 people that day. 

“I had to make a terrible decision,” he said, wiping away tears. “I still pray for them every night.” 

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.