I’ve visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. many times, but this Memorial Day weekend, we visited a much lesser known memorial: The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico. While walking through the unusual design and museum I was wonderstruck both by they sacrifice of those who gave their lives and the depths of love and commitment of one couple who wanted to ensure those sacrifices were honored.
On May 22, 1968, Victor and Jeanne Westphal lost their son, David, in Vietnam. At the time, building a memorial to honor the veterans wasn’t popular. Jeanne suggested that the money from David’s life insurance policies be used to create a memorial—not just for their son but the fifteen men that died with him near ConThien, South Vietnam as well all the others whose lives were given in Vietnam.
The cost of the memorial exceeded the money from the insurance policy. The Westphalls owned Val Verde Ranch and planned on developing it as resort. Instead, they used the land—and sold off more than 95 percent of it—in order to build this site. Financial difficulties, apathy toward the war and their efforts, as well as harsh winter weather created challenges on every front.
On the third anniversary of David’s death, the first major memorial to honor veterans of the Vietnam War was dedicated. The construction helped inspire the establishment of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC which was completed more than ten years later.
Unlike so many large national memorials, this one feels incredibly personal. As I walked the through the museum, I was taken back but the unique photographs, images, and displays. Fellow veterans and their families donated many of the items. Each one held a powerful story. But the most impact-filled moment was catching glimpses of just how hard Dr. Westphal fought for his son and all the other sons lost in Vietnam.
If you’re ever traveling through Angel Fire, New Mexico (less than 45 minutes from Taos), make sure you stop to visit and find yourself wonderstruck by the power of love and sacrifice.
*Photo courtesy of here