Honoring sacrifice

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Linda Pacheco sits beside the grave of her only brother. “I miss him a lot,” she said. “He was the backbone of the family.” Her brother, who served with the National Guard in Clovis, died two years ago from a heart attack.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Beneath a slightly overcast sky about a hundred people gathered in the Garden of Honor at Lawn Haven Memorial Gardens on Monday morning in observance of Memorial Day.

The crowd was a mixture of those who have fought, those who have lost loved ones, and those who wanted to show support for the men and women who have sacrificed their lives defending the nation.

“Today we celebrate the lesson of liberty,” said John Garcia, New Mexico Director of Veteran Services, to the crowd. “Today we dedicate ourselves to supporting the men and women of our active duty armed forces.”

In the history of conflict involving the United States, more than 48 million have fought to defend the nation, Garcia said. Of those, more than one million have died in combat.

There are roughly 24 million veterans alive today, he told the crowd.

“They, the veterans, have paid the price ultimately for you to be left alone,” he said. Garcia encouraged not just remembrance and honor of those service men and women lost, but of those living as well.

There are more than 190,000 military veterans in New Mexico, the Vietnam veteran said.

“Today is a day to remember that service is the price of freedom,” he said.

“Ask yourself, what has a vet done for you and then ask yourself what have you done for a vet?”

“Let us remember, freedom isn’t free.”

Rick Robertson, a retired Navy chief petty officer, named about a dozen veterans in attendance that have served in wars since World War II, including Lee Roach, a Bataan Death March survivor, and Ira Pottard, distinguished as the last living Buffalo Soldier.

“I hope we did something that means something to you,” Robertson said in a quiet voice while standing before the group in full dress uniform as the ceremony drew to a close. “We tried.”

Some lingered at the graves of loved ones after the ceremony.

Sgt. Bryan Strang stopped to comfort Linda Pacheco and place a flag on the grave of her brother, Sgt. Bobby Pacheco, a longtime friend who died two years ago from a heart attack.

Strang, a member of the Clovis National Guard unit and a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, said he and his wife attend the Memorial Day ceremony every year and stop by the cemetery often to pay homage to those lost. Gesturing with a sweep of his arm, he said “We have several friends in this area (of the cemetery).”