Service to country was instilled in Joe Blair as a teenager aboard a warship in the U.S. Navy. That service didn’t rust after he was discharged — it just got sharper and more focused.
Blair, who was born in 1925 in Portales, was recognized by the Portales City Council and a full house of well-wishers Tuesday for the years of service he has provided to the community, its veterans and their families.
“Everyday is Memorial Day and Veterans Day for Joe Blair and he demonstrates that,” Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. said. “We thank you for that, Mr. Blair.”
After receiving a proclamation from the city along with the Excellence in Citizenship Award, Blair told the group he was honored and that his main goal was to recognize veterans.
“I heard of a man who said one time if you have one friend you’re rich,” Blair said. “When I look out on the audience, I see I’m a wealthy man.”
During the ceremony Blair was honored for his service as commander of the American Legion Post 31 for the last 10 years, during which the post has presented the American flag at 152 veterans’ funerals. His dedication in organizing the ceremonies for Memorial Day and Veterans Day in Portales also was noted. The proclamation also credits Blair for his service as Portales city clerk from 1947-48 and his service as a captain and co-founder of the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Reserve.
Blair, who is a historian and author of two history books, fondly recalls growing up in Portales between World War I and World War II. Before the war, he says one of his biggest concerns was being able to get out the back door of one of the many pool halls before the town constable made it through the front door. Boys under 18 weren’t allowed, but the pool hall owners let them play on the tables at the back with the understanding they would leave quickly by the back door if need be.
Like other young men of his generation, Blair says he joined the Navy before he was of age. He entered radio school in the Navy but soon found talking in Morse Code wasn’t for him. He switched to gunners mate and served aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Farragut.
During his military career, Blair fought in 26 battles and received 13 battle stars, according to information compiled by organizers of the event.
Blair’s only child, daughter Judy Hall of Portales, said all of the immediate family was at Tuesday’s event. She said that it was a new and interesting experience getting an event organized without her father overseeing the details. She said he is meticulous on the details, something she credits to the U.S. Navy.
“I’m very proud. We’re honored that they’re doing this for him,” Hall said. “He doesn’t do a lot of patting on the back except for other people’s backs. He does a lot of things that people never know about.”
Fellow American Legion Post member Dennis Darrow said working with Blair has been an honor.
He said he and Blair took charge of a faltering Post membership 10 years ago and have gone from 14 members to 74. Darrow said the fact that Blair seems to know everyone made that possible.
Darrow said Blair also was instrumental in getting the original Memorial Building built back in the early 1950s. The Post raised 90 percent of the cost of the building.
“All of us served in the military and came home,” Darrow said of other veterans from World War II. “Joe joined (the Post) right after World War II, though. Some of the rest of us joined later.”
Blair, who owned and operated B&B Radio and TV Lab in Portales for 36 years, said he was amazed at the reception and ceremony, but quickly pointed out that it wasn’t just about him but all the area’s veterans.
“It’s important to me,” Blair said. “We need to recognize all these veterans deceased and living. It just needs to be done.”