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(Tribune News Service) — Veterans working to raise funds to build a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are asking state lawmakers to help them raise the last $50,000 needed to get the job done.

Fundraising efforts for the project were going well in 2019 and 2020, Jerry Martinez, vice president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Northern New Mexico Chapter 996, told members of the Legislature’s interim Military and Veterans Affairs Committee Monday.

“We were doing fine, until the pandemic hit,” said Martinez, a Marine veteran.

Martinez told lawmakers the wall is ready and awaiting assembly. But his group needs another $50,000 to pay for installing the name panels on the wall. The replica would be placed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park in Angel Fire.

“It’s going to be something fabulous,” he said of the wall.

New Mexico veterans have been working on the project, based on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. since at least 2019. That’s when leaders of Chapter 996 and officials of the state Department of Veterans Services signed an agreement to designate a place at the Angel Fire site to place the wall after it is built.

The original monument in D.C., which was dedicated in 1982 and features the names of more than 58,000 Americans who perished in the Vietnam War —including 398 from New Mexico and 17 from Santa Fe — attracts millions of visitors each year.

Edward Mendez, who oversees the Angel Fire facilities for the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services, told lawmakers the addition of a memorial wall at that site will draw more visitors.

Mendez said about 50,000 visitors come to the Angel Fire memorial every year. The state recently opened the Angel Fire State Veterans Cemetery near the Angel Fire memorial.

But as empathetic as many members of the committee were to the group’s plight, there is little they can do to appropriate money until the next legislative session, slated to begin in mid-January.

“Obviously in the interim we have no way of moving money,” Sen. Craig Brandt, R- Rio Rancho and a U.S. Air Force veteran, told Martinez.

“We get these requests from everyone for every project and they’re all good projects,” Brandt added. “I know COVID hit everyone. It hit all of us, too.”

He urged Martinez to continue fundraising efforts and to approach Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration for the money, which, he said, could be pulled from incoming federal relief dollars for the state.

Martinez said he will be meeting with Sonya Smith, the secretary of the state Department of Veteran Services, about the issue later this week.

Organizers originally hoped the wall would be up and ready for visitors by the end of 2021. Now, they say, it’s more likely to be 2022, or even 2023, before it’s ready.

(c)2021 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

Visit The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) at www.santafenewmexican.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Memorial Day tributes at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 31, 2021.
Memorial Day tributes at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 31, 2021. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)

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