By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Joe Blair, commander of American Legion Post 31 in Portales, keeps a good buddy up front in his thoughts each Veterans Day by always making sure there is a flag placed on his grave.
Without naming the comrade, Blair said they were good friends, about the same age, who went into separate branches of service during World War II.
“He lacked nine months being 19 when he was killed, Blair reflected. “I was lucky and made it and he didn’t.” the U.S. Navy veteran said.
As commander of the American Legion, Blair helps put together an annual veterans tribute each year. This year’s ceremonies are set for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Memorial Building in Portales.
Speaker for the ceremony will be Col. Scott West, commander of the 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon Air Force Base. The program will also include veteran tributes as well as music by Don Paschke and Jana Stanfield.
Blair noted that a lot of the American Legion’s ceremony is centered around the surviving members of the Bataan Death March and the widows of those who don’t survive today.
On April 9, 1942, approximately 70,000 Filipino and U.S. soldiers surrendered as the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Those prisoners, some of whom were with the 200th Coast Artillery of New Mexico, saw some of the first fighting of World War II.
The Japanese imposed a forced march of approximately 63 miles on the prisoners while beating them and denying them food and water.
Of the original Bataan Death March survivors from Roosevelt County, only two are still living, according to Blair.
Following the ceremonies, refreshments will be served sponsored by members of Post 31 and the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 31.
According to Blair, Veterans Day was originally commemorated as Armistice Day, the anniversary of the signing of the armistice ending World War I. The date and time of that signing— the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — hold special significance to veterans organizations.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9515 in Portales will sponsor a Veterans Day barbecue beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday at the VFW building on Main Street. According to Post Commander Kevin Robbins, brisket, potato salad and beans will be served to all veterans and their families free of charge.
The VFW will also place flags on the graves of veterans at Portales Cemetery Saturday beginning at 9:30 a.m. Robbins said with the holiday falling on a Saturday, the group may not have as much help as usual at the cemetery. He invited anyone interested in helping to meet at the cemetery.
“Without our nation’s veterans, we wouldn’t be the only super power left on the planet and we wouldn’t be the country we are today,” Robbins said.
The VFW leader said that veterans deserve at least their own day, if not a week or more, to be recognized.
“At the least they deserve a thank-you,” Robbins said.