In the 1960s, Angel Fire, N.M., was just a small ranching community. Captivated by the beautiful scenery, Dr. Victor Westphall and his wife, Jeanne, purchased 800-acre Val Verde Ranch with plans to build a resort.
But those ideas quickly changed. In May 1968 the Westphalls’ son, David, a Marine, was killed in the Vietnam War. The family scrapped their plans for a resort and Jeanne suggested building a chapel on the ranch.
Construction began in September 1968. “When they needed more funds to support building the chapel they would sell pieces of land,” says Kate German. They sold all but 5 acres to build the memorial, now named Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park. German is the site’s manager.
This memorial predates the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., by 10 years. “You have to keep in mind, construction was going on while the war was still active,” German says. There were mixed feelings about such a memorial, but veterans returning home from the war volunteered to help build it.
“Doc Westfall was one of the first people who truly treated returning veterans with respect. He treated each of them as if they were his son,” she says.
The Disabled American Veterans became a partner on the project, raising money for a visitors’ center and buying back some of the land the Westphalls sold. Today the state park comprises 33 acres of the original ranch. The sidewalks around the chapel and garden are lined with bricks inscribed with veterans’ names, purchased by their friends and family.
“We even have a section where some of our allies have asked to be recognized. We have two Australian bricks and two South Vietnamese bricks,” German says. The mother and daughter of one of the South Vietnamese soldiers have visited many times. “They shared with me this is the only place in the world where he can be honored for his service.”
The memorial and park are open year-round and are free of charge.
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