The old armory building at 917 Douglas Ave. remains a shell of its former self after it was gutted by fire in 1993.
The old armory has a storied history as a headquarters and demarcation point for northern New Mexico soldiers who served their state and country with distinction.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for a renovated armory will be held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Decorated airman Miguel Encinias got the ball rolling for the project in 2002 as he proposed an idea that would bring the burned-out building back to life. He will serve as master of ceremonies during the groundbreaking ceremony.
Encinias, a resident of Albuquerque and a native of Las Vegas, served in the Army Air Corps and Air Force in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He flew 70 missions in World War II and was shot down and held prisoner for 15 months. In the Korean conflict, he flew 113 missions, was shot down, rescued and returned to duty. In Vietnam, Encinias flew 40 missions.
Encinias has been awarded three distinguished flying crosses, 14 air medals and two purple hearts.
Victor Cordova, chairman of the Northern New Mexico Community Development Corporation, said the renovated armory would serve as an education, training, housing, medical and social services and general economic development center for veterans.
“We will definitely have a museum that will contain the history of the building and of the veterans from this area. We want something that we can call our own,” Cordova said.
Cordova said there hasn’t been any lack of support to restore the armory. He said it’s been a united effort and early on the City Council and mayor, area legislators and the governor were behind the proposed restoration.
“Sen. Pete Campos took the lead at the legislative level. He pushed for a resolution in a joint memorial between the New Mexico delegation, the state veterans service commission and the legislative council to designate funding for the building,” Cordova said. He said Richardson gave $650,000 from his capital outlay fund.
Cordova said a restored armory would also be a one-stop shop for veterans seeking counseling, transportation to the veterans affairs hospital in Albuquerque and job referrals.
Cordova said his committee wanted the building to be self-sustaining with as many as 20 office spaces that would be rented to other nonprofit organizations.
More than 190,000 veterans are in the state, and Cordova said the sad fact in northern New Mexico, there are many out-of-work and homeless vets.
Members of three National Guard battalions, in anticipation of war, volunteered early, 15 months before the attack on Pear Harbor.
The 200th coast artillery was the first to fight but lacked support because the country was not fully prepared.
The 120th combat engineer battalion was the first guard unit federalized to go to Bataan.
The 45th infantry saw the most days of direct combat, 511, of any division in the Pacific or Atlantic theaters. The unit had the largest number of Hispanic and Native Americans of any division and was praised by General George Patton as the first to serve under his command.
The 45th even earned the respect of the enemy, Marshall Kesselring, overall German commander in the Mediterranean area, said that it was one of the two best divisions against which he had ever fought.