Monday, January 4, 2010

New Mexico

The New Mexico site is one of the first I ever visited, more than 20 years ago. To some degree it was the one that set this whole process in motion. I first saw a news report, many years prior to my first trip about how a father was building a memorial to his lost son. The story said that the father laid every stone for the memorial himself. He wanted to build a place of peace, honoring all involved in the war, no matter which side they were on!

Located about 25 miles east of Taos, through the Carson National Forest, is the ski area of Angel Fire. The Westphall family owned land there that they planned to turn into a resort. After the loss of their son these plans were abandoned and the memorial was built. Dr. Westphall began construction five days after his son, David, was killed. The chapel that Dr. Westphall built is a simple, non-denominational sanctuary where a photo of his son David is always on display. In addition, a number of other photos are rotated each month. There have so many now that individual states are featured each month. The memorial is considered a National Monument and therefore honors all. The site asks that anyone who wishes to do so submit pictures for inclusion in the rotation

Over time the family granted the D.A.V. the right to oversee and continue the growth process. They raised a couple of million dollars and built a visitor center. In time, the center was ceded to the New Mexico State Government, under Gov. Bill Richardson, who have committed to its funding and care.

A story is told that on one particular morning, when staff arrived, they found a handwritten note stuck in the door. It said, "Why were you closed when I needed to be here?" Since that morning the doors to the chapel have never been locked again.

When the site was turned over to the state the family required only three things; that the chapel doors never be locked, that no one ever be charged a fee to visit, and that if the state should decide to no longer be involved that the site be returned to the family.

There are several other points of interest on the site in addition to the visitor's center; a welcome home banner, a statue of a soldier and a Walk of Honor bearing engraved bricks. Because this is considered a national Monument to all, the names of the 400 New Mexican's who made the final sacrifice are not listed, but many are included on the Walk of Honor. The bricks that comprise the Walk are dedicated by family or friends and are placed on the ever expanding path periodically. In addition, Dr. and Mrs Westphall are now interred in a small fenced grave yard adjacent to the Chapel.

This is a most peaceful and beautiful place that looks out over the valley created by surrounding mountains and a ski resort which, to me, emphasizes the tragedy of the Westphalls and thousands of other families.


  1. Wow. I really love this one. It sounds like a peaceful sanctuary for anyone touched by this war.

  2. Michael--many thanks to you for your fine article about the Angel Fire Memorial. You have captured its essence very well in both words and photographs. You are to be commended for undertaking the very difficult task of documenting so many Vietnam memorials. I hope that your objective of helping people to heal is being met. I will be sure to look over all your entries over a period of time. Walter Westphall (co-founder of the Angel Fire Memorial)

  3. Thank you! Your support means more than you can possibly ever know.As I have said before, it was Angel Fire (and Missoula Montana) that started this journey for me.