BELEN — Just two weeks before the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new Belen Veterans Memorial at Eagle Park, the Belen City Council will consider naming the new Veterans Visitor Center despite the name already painted on a sign in front of the facility.
Belen City Councilor Frank Ortega named the building for Spc. Henry Byrd III — his step nephew, who, at the age of 20, died from heatstroke while serving in with the Army in Iraq in June 2007. The councilor said he feels Byrd deserved the “remembrance.”
“There is no ordinance or policy that we have on the books about naming something after a certain person,” Ortega said. “I figured ‘little’ Henry, who went through hell, deserves this. He died in service to this country, and while he died of non-combat related issues, he’s still deserving.”
Ortega has talked about naming the facility after Byrd for months during numerous council meetings. He said the council, mayor and the city’s administration knew of his plans, and no one questioned it until this week.
Mayor Jerah Cordova said while he knew of the councilor’s plan, he says the issue was never “formally” brought to the city’s administration or for consideration by the council. He does admit that the city does not have a policy or ordinance regarding naming a city-owned building or property, but hopes an ordinance will soon be developed.
“I’ve received complaints from three people,” Cordova said of the naming of the center. “For the most part, they believe there should be no name attached to the building, or one that represents all veterans equally. They want a fair and transparent process.”
Cordova said there may be three different possibilities regarding naming the center, including it remain the Spc. Henry Byrd III Visitors Center, give it a generic name or, if the city decides to accept a specific name, they could ask for recommendations and have a fair vetting process.
“I have a lot of respect for every veteran, and I don’t want to disrespect (Byrd) and his family,” Cordova said. “We need to address this, and I believe we can do this with an ordinance. I think that would be the best approach.”
Cordova doesn’t think the public was aware of Ortega naming the building after his step nephew until Byrd’s name was painted on the sign last week.
“Now people are asking questions,” he said. “I thought it would come to the city council for consideration before any name was put up.”
Ortega said the building, which is a portable donated to the city by the Belen Consolidated Schools, will be a place where veterans and first responders could meet. He also envisions the center being used as a location for the VA to give information to local veterans.
Ortega, Councilor Wayne Gallegos and their wives volunteered their time and effort to renovate the portable over the past several months. While thousands of city dollars were spent on materials and some construction costs, Ortega said a lot was donated to the to projects.
The councilor said he doesn’t mind asking his fellow city councilors to consider naming the building after Byrd, who is the son of his sister-in-law’s husband.
“In reality, I’m not his real uncle,” Ortega said of Byrd. “But I took on that role when my sister-in-law married his father when he was 4 or 5 years old. He called me ‘Uncle Tiger.’
Ortega also isn’t opposed to the council adopting an ordinance regarding naming city facilities, but said there are other city-owned properties named after specific people, including the Belen Alexander Airport, named after former Mayor Neil Alexander; Anna Becker Park, Vivian Fields and Jose Gallegos Park.
“I had no idea when I went with (naming the center) that people would be opposed,” Ortega said. “I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.”
One resident who does have concerns about the name is Gloria Sanchez, a long-time Belen volunteer, who, with her late husband, Sonny, established the 9/11 Park on Main Street. She said while she is in favor of the Belen Veterans Memorial and the Veterans Visitors Center, she doesn’t believe the center should be named after a specific person.
“This (building) is going to represent everyone — all veterans,” Sanchez said. “My point, and along with other people I’ve spoken to, disagree naming it after one individual. God bless them, my condolences for the family’s loss … but it never came before the council.
“It’s not right for one person to have the power to name a city building,” Sanchez said. “My concern is that it’s unfair to name this after one individual because it belittles the validity of other veterans. Some gave some and some gave all, and they all need to be respected.”
Ortega is willing “to take the heat,” saying he doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong by naming the building after Byrd, who he said was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Action Badge and the National Defense Service Medal.
“I will be taking this in front of the council on Monday,” Ortega said. “It’s right to honor this young man. He deserves this. I don’t think it’s right that a handful of people are trying to dictate and bully. I’ve done nothing wrong to defend.
“I’m doing it because I always do the right thing,” he added. “Everyone who hasn’t been recognized for giving the ultimate sacrifice deserves to be remembered, including Spc. Henry Byrd.”
The council will consider naming the facility at it’s meeting at 6 p.m., Monday, June 17.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Belen Veterans Memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m., Saturday, June 29, at Eagle Park. The ceremony will kick off the city’s All American Celebration.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.