Your destiny was written from the start

Your absence will forever leave

A hole in my heart.

–Paul David Gonzales

This is an excerpt from a poem prefacing “Holes in Our Hearts”— an anthology of New Mexican military-related stories and poetry published recently by the Southwest Writers of New Mexico.

This book contains written works, both fictional and nonfictional, from more than 50 New Mexican authors with some connection to United States military services.

“Whether active duty, veterans or relatives of those who served, these short stories, memoirs, poems, essays etc., are the expressions of deeply ingrained memories and experiences,” said New York Times best selling author and New Mexican resident Joseph Badal.

Award-winning Southwest Writers member and veteran Jim Tritten spearheaded the creation of the anthology. He sent out the call for submissions and was awarded a $2,000 grant in January from New Mexico Arts and the Military to publish the book.

The five Valencia County authors who contributed to “Holes in Our Hearts” held a book reading at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts in July. Pictured from left Donna Pedace, Los Lunas; Rosa Armijo-Pemble, Belen; Walter Maki, Los Lunas; Dale Swetnam, Los Lunas; and Barbara Simmons, Bosque Farms. Submitted photos.

Five Valencia County authors who submitted material are featured in the diverse anthology. Their works demonstrate the dynamic array of stories found in “Holes in our Hearts” that will take readers on a roller coaster ride of emotions — from heartbreak to humor and everything in between.

Nancy Wake in her military uniform immediately after WWII.

Donna Pedace, of Los Lunas, submitted a chapter about Nancy Wake from a book she’s working on about women spies who served their countries during World War II.

Wake, originally from New Zealand, was living in France when Germany invaded during WWII. During this time, Wake and her husband began working with the resistance. They helped endangered locals and allied troops escape from German occupied areas.

“She was said to be one of the war’s most fearsome French resistance fighters. In 1942, the Gestapo put her at the top of their most wanted list, offering a five-million-franc bounty for her capture. The Germans began calling her ‘The White Mouse’ for her ability to remain hidden from capture,” Pedace wrote in her chapter.

Pedace chose to submit her chapter on Wake for the anthology because she was a fascinating individual and was one of the earliest women to work with the resistance.

Nancy Wake received the Companion of the Order of Australia medal in 2004 for her contributions during WWII.

“She had a very big personality,” Pedace said. “We would call her a real character today.”

Pedace said sharing the story of Wake and other women spies is important because their selfless and significant contributions to their countries are often overlooked.

The chapter on Wake is just one of several chapters, each featuring a different woman spy, from her larger book she is currently writing.

Author Barbara Simmons, of Bosque Farms, also submitted a chapter from one of her larger publications called “The War Within.” This romantic, nonfiction story follows a former marine deployed in Afghanistan who lost his leg in the war and finds love upon returning home after facing the horrors of his past.

Simmons, who has authored several romance novels, said she’s on a personal crusade to have people with disabilities be the hero and heroine of the story because they’re underrepresented in the literary world. This book is the first in a three-part military romance series featuring a protagonist with a physical disability of some sort.

Simmon’s father was a lieutenant colonel with the United States Army, so she grew up as a “military brat” moving back and forth between Germany and the Washington, D.C., area which, she said, influenced everything, her writing included.

“I went to four different high schools,” she said. “You learn to fit in anywhere and everywhere, and you are exposed to many different cultures growing up, so you have a broader view of the world.”

Simmons is very proud to be a part of the anthology because veterans have always held a special place in her heart.

Dale Swetnam served 3 1/2 years in the U.S. Air Force working on navigational computers during the Vietnam War.

Los Lunas local, Dale Swetnam, served  3 1/2 years in the U.S. Air Force working on navigational computers during the Vietnam War.

Now retired, he spends a lot of time writing and self-publishing; he even prints his own stories and constructs them into their physical form by hand.

His short story featured in “Holes in Our Hearts” explores the “emptiness syndrome” many veterans experience upon returning home.

“The character had a family and everything before he left, and that’s what he expected to come home to, but his family, brothers and sisters, all married and moved out, so the home he had left wasn’t there anymore,” Swetnam said.

The Los Lunas author said this echoes how he felt when he returned home.

Army veteran Walter “Butch” Maki, of Los Lunas, served with the 170th Assault Helicopter Company as an aircraft crew member during the Vietnam War.

His piece in the anthology features a chapter from his debut novel, “Bikini Beach,” he wrote post-retirement during the Covid pandemic. It’s based on true events he experienced and witnessed.

A UH1 Huey with nose art depicting Little Annie Fanny in a bikini. Bikini was the 170th Assault Helicopter Company’s call sign.

“I was driving my wife crazy during quarantine. She said, ‘Why don’t you just write that book you’ve been thinking about?’ I wanted to write something so my children and grandchildren would know about what I did,” said Maki.

Maki says his novel follows a farm boy with stars in his eyes. The protagonist heard stories from his family about liberators in Europe, but going to Vietnam he is disenchanted by the war but keeps on going because, “If you ain’t flying, men are dying,” he said.

Post war, the novel follows the main character as he comes home to a country that’s changed and the subsequent struggles he goes through.

Maki created an award-winning short story based off a chapter from his book called “From a Chicken to an Eagle.” He considered submitting that piece for the anthology, but a friend encouraged him to submit a different chapter, since that one had already received recognition.

“So I submitted ‘Bob’s Last Flight,’ the only real tear-jerker chapter. My cousin called me a nasty name for making her cry,” he said chuckling.

Maki hopes this doesn’t dissuade potential readers from reading “Bikini Beach” because apart from being a war story, it’s also a love story, a western and has a lot of humor.

Rosa Armijo-Pemble’s son pictured with his sister. Armijo-Pemble’s entry was inspired by her son, who is now serving in the U.S Air Force.

Rosa Armijo-Pemble, of Belen, leads the way in “Holes in Our Hearts” with her personal piece serving as the first chapter of the book. Her short entry titled, “Just Care: A Lesson in Possibilities,” is about her son, currently serving in the Air Force, and the hurdles he’s faced growing up on the Asperger’s spectrum.

“Raising a child to be an amazing adult is hard, but to raise one on the spectrum holds many more challenges,” Armijo-Pemble wrote in her entry. “He was already his own little man by age three. A thirty-year-old in the body of an extremely articulate and beautiful child’s body, just screaming, literally and figuratively, to be let out.”

Armijo-Pemble has been a member of Southwest Writers for more than 25 years, and wrote this story specifically for the anthology. She says her son is thriving in the Air Force and she hopes people take away from her entry that anything is possible.

“Some days I’m pulling my hair out, but we work through it and here we are all these years later,” she said. “Everyone’s so proud of him, and all those who truly knew who he was, knew he’d be where he’s at now.”

Armijo-Pemble says the power of “Holes in Our Hearts” lies in the cathartic energy authors put into their submissions.

“A lot of (the stories) just needed to be told,” said Armijo-Pemble. “I cried when I wrote mine because it’s from the heart. It’s important to know what others are going through and to know they’re not alone.”

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Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.