By Kevin Wilson: PNT Managing Editor
Frank Pena said that when he returned from the Vietnam War in 1970, he had an extensive network of family and friends that supported him and showed him appreciation.
Others weren’t as lucky as Pena, and the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post is taking this week to show what appreciation it can for its veterans.
The first event was Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day, held Sunday at the Becky Sharp Auditorium, on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University. Event organizers said that May 1 was celebrated as Loyalty Day, and VFW Post 9515 in Portales used it to remember those who fought nearly three decades ago in southeast Asia.
State Sen. Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) spoke at the event and said that it was alarming to think of the war’s American death toll of 58,000.
“If you thought of Curry Conty and Roosevelt County being without population, there you are,” Ingle said.
Ingle added that the perception years later is that the Vietnam War was one where politicians played too heavy of a role in matters that should have been left up to the military.
“Politics has a certain error about it,” Ingle said. “It certainly does not belong when you’re asking a man to die.”
Don Elder, who teaches about Vietnam in his history classes at Eastern New Mexico University, was also invited to speak. Elder said that Post 9515 Commander Tim Marsh gave him the option of a prepared speech or his own words, and the prepared speech was more eloquent than anything he could have done.
“Because of Vietnam veterans, the flame of freedom burns brighter today throughout the world,” Elder read. “The freedoms and liberties we enjoy today are in large part guaranteed by all of those who served so honorably.”
Pena was one of those who served, and received a certificate of appreciation at the conclusion of Sunday’s event. Pena said that he was a reconnaissance sergeant with the First Air Calvary, then returned to Portales and worked for 25 years as a meat cutter before retiring.
“I went to Vietnam because I was called to do that,” Pena said. “I have no regrets. I don’t hate the Vietnamese. They were doing what they knew was their duty.”
Four more events are scheduled this week by the VFW post. Tonight is the second night of an open house, where veterans are invited to come talk about their memories and bring memorabilia if they choose.
Thursday will include a veterans meal (veterans are asked to RSVP for a free meal for themselves and a guest). Floyd junior Darcee Chenault, the post’s Voice of Democracy winner, will be the guest speaker.
Saturday, the post will hold a dance from 11 a.m. to midnight with the Shadowcasters playing. Vietnam veterans can enter free with a guest, while admission for others is $5.
All events at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9515, 316 S. Main
l Open house for Vietnam veterans starting at 5 p.m. Veterans are invited to bring memorabilia and meet with other area veterans.
l Vietnam Veterans Meal, 6:30 p.m. Veterans and a guest are provided with a free meal, provided they RSVP.
l Open post for Vietnam veterans only, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
l Benefit dance, 8 p.m. to midnight, featuring the Shadowcasters. Veterans and a guest receive free admission, all others $5 per person. Proceeds benefit the VFW maintenance fund.