BELEN — What began as a vision almost four years ago is now a reality.

On Saturday afternoon, in front of a crowd that overflowed the shade of a white tent, the Belen Veterans Memorial was formally opened.

Eric L. Green, an U.S. Air Force veteran and a member of the local Lupertero Garcia Disabled American Veterans Chapter No. 29, began planning the memorial nearly three years before approaching the Belen mayor and council with his idea.

The governing body supported the idea, but didn’t have the funds. When the project broke ground in October 2016, there was $70,000 from a legislative appropriation in hand thanks for former state Sen. Michael Sanchez.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small addresses a crowd of nearly 200 people at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Belen Veterans Memorial at Eagle Park.

As the project progressed, another $300,000 in state funds was appropriated by state Sen. Greg Baca and Reps. Kelly Fajardo, Alonzo Baldonado and Gail Armstrong.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday, U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small said New Mexico has a long military history, from the Battle of Glorieta Pass to the Navajo code talkers to the men and women who served in Operation New Dawn.

“Demonstrating valor, courage and sacrifice, New Mexico soldiers have shaped the world,” Torres Small said. “We never forget their sacrifices.”

A Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War, Sen. Greg Baca said it was a great honor to be part of the legislative team that helped fund the memorial.

“It is said you keep your treasures close to your heart,” Baca said. “It makes me happy and honored you have decided your treasures are your veterans and you keep them close to your heart.”

Federal, state and local officials, along with a slew of veterans and their families gathered to cut the ribbon, officially opening the new Belen Veterans Memorial in Eagle Park.

When a community is united, great things can be accomplished, said Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova.

“This adds one more feature to Belen that shows we are caring, united and proud. (Belen Councilor) Frank (Ortega) brought this to the council and he worked hard for years,” Cordova said. “There are many people who helped with this, we can’t recognize them all.

“Belen and Valencia County have a strong tradition of service. Now Belen has a beacon. Thank you to the veterans here today.”

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Belen Veterans Memorial in Eagle Park last Saturday, many of the veterans present gathered for a group picture.

Belen Councilor Frank Ortega, a Marine veteran, said he was “honored to be standing here, amongst all of you. United we stand, divided we fall. Thank you for standing with us.”

Councilors David Carter and Ronnie Torres said they were proud to honor veterans in the community, thanking them for their service and sacrifice.

Guest speaker John Chavez, a retired Army colonel and Valencia County Division II Magistrate, said there are many special places in the world.

“Some are created by God, like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon,” Chavez said.

“Some are special because I wonder if it is not because God wrote it on our hearts,” he said. “Battleships and battle fields are such places, invoking a somber reverence. Some places are special because of what they represent. This is a natural place for a memorial. Valencia County is a special place.”

There are memorials throughout the county that honor veterans, including the Isleta Veterans Association Center, Daniel Fernandez Memorial Park in Los Lunas, a Korean War Memorial at the community center in Tomé, the Jarales War Memorial and now here in the Hub City, he said.

Artist Linda Duggar talks about the symbolism of the mural she and other artists with the Belen Art League painted on the SPC Henry Byrd III Veterans Visitor Center at Eagle Park. The center is near the newly-opened Belen Veterans Memorial. Duggar, who designed the mural, said the yellow ribbon signifies the souls waiting to come home, and the dog tags honor those who didn’t.

“We served for love of family, country and one another, brothers in arms,” Chavez said.

The memorial is surrounded by a 6-foot high brick wall, with a gateway to the star-shaped center.

A tall flagpole, similar to the mast on a ship, with the U.S. and New Mexico flags, will be mounted in the center, and the flags of all branches of the service will be flown around the perimeter.

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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.