LOS LUNAS — Numbering in the hundreds, veterans of Valencia County are being honored in a special exhibit at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts through Veterans Day.
Museum technician Owen Baca said while there have been displays over the years, which included veterans and associated artifacts, such as the 2020 Wonder Women of the Rio Abajo, which featured several artifacts and stories of women veterans from Valencia County, the staff felt it was very much time to create an exhibit specifically for veterans.
“We all wanted to put together an exhibit focused on veterans and culminating on Veterans Day,” Baca said of his fellow technician, Rebecca Ortiz, and museum director, Louis Huning.
The Veterans Day exhibit will be up through Veterans Day, Saturday, Nov. 11. The Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts, 251 Main St. NE, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
Staff was also inspired by the various lectures at the museum by local historians, such as Peralta historian John Taylor’s recent presentation about New Mexico Congressional Medal of Honor recipients based on his book, “A Legacy of Heroism: New Mexico’s Medal of Honor Recipients,” which was published earlier this year.
The trio began gathering information about local veterans from numerous sources, including audio and video interviews housed at the museum, articles and features in the Valencia County News-Bulletin, as well as its annual Salute to Veterans, interviews and writings by local historians, and online grave-site locators.
The result is an impressive compilation of veterans’ names from conflicts reaching back to the World Wars and as recent as battles in the Middle East. The names are displayed on large printed displays hung through the main and side gallery. In addition are some displays highlighting the stories of individual veterans, from Maximiliano Luna and the Rough Riders to Army Sgt. Joel Dahl.
Dahl was hoping to get a head start on a career in law enforcement so he joined the Army shortly after graduating from Los Lunas High School. He was killed in Iraq in 2007 during his first tour, just days before he was scheduled to return home for the birth of his son.
Miguel H. Trujillo, a Isleta Pueblo civil rights activist, is also one of the stories on the wall. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and recruited Pueblo and Navajo men who became the famed Navajo Code Talkers.
Following his time in the Marines, Trujillo continued the fight by advocating for and helping secure voting rights for Native Americans in New Mexico.
Ortiz said many visitors to the museum know World War II veteran Jose S. Chavez, who is among the honored. A Bataan Death March survivor, Chavez sat for a video interview with Los Lunas historian Patty Guggino in 2008, when he recounted his time in the Japanese interment camps.
“As prisoners they had to catch flies; in return the Japanese would give them food … He says that God gave him the strength to persevere and stay alive,” reads part of the display featuring Chavez.
His interview is one of the many oral histories the museum has on file made by various residents in the Los Lunas area. The videos are available for viewing at the museum.
The story of Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez is one Baca finds engrossing, he said. Born in Peralta, Marquez grew up in Tomé. He served in the U.S. Air Force for 33 years and decorated numerous times.
Marquez was a pilot with more than 2,000 hours in single engine jet fighters, and was responsible for the approval and implementation of the Air Force Combat Ammunitions Center, better known as “Ammo U.”
“There are so many different stories,” Baca said. “We have and had a lot of community members serve this community and country in a lot of ways, whether we know it or not.”
In addition to representing as many different branches of service and periods of service as they could, the museum staff worked hard to make the display more interactive than most.
Several of the displays feature QR codes which, when viewed through a smart-phone camera, provides a link to a website or YouTube video with more information about a specific veteran or conflict.
One of those video stories is that of Air Force Senior Airman Michael Malarsie, of Bosque Farms, who was severely injured and blinded by an improvised explosive device outside a small village in Afghanistan in 2010.
There are also numerous relics and objects from veterans displayed through out the museum, including firearms, uniforms, reproduced post cards and even menus for holiday meals served on board warships shortly before the bombs fell at Pearl Harbor.
Many local families donated items and artifacts to the museum, including the Hunings, Tondres and Ayles.
“One of the things we wanted to do was represent as many Valencia County veterans as we could. That was a hard endeavor,” Baca said.
While the staff was able to gather many names, they know they don’t have them all, he said.
To gather additional names of veterans, the staff hung “recognition displays” with the exhibit, which allows visitors to add the names, ranks, branch of service and years of service to the display. Baca said the plan is to incorporate the names into future displays so that as many veteran as possible are included.
Both he and Ortiz said they would love to have more people see the display so they can appreciate the number of men and women who served and to add any missing veterans to their records.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website — department.va.gov — the history of Veterans Day goes back to the end of World War I, known at the time as “The Great War.”
World War I officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, outside the town of Versailles, France, but fighting had ceased seven months earlier when an armistice — a temporary cessation of hostilities — between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
Veterans Day continues to be observed on Nov. 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The observance of Veterans Day preserves the historical significance of the date, and focuses attention on the purpose of Veterans Day — A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
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.