Fiestas organizers stopped the music in Plaza Park for an hour Friday morning to pay respect to the country’s veterans.
On the Fourth of July, a number of speakers told the audience to remember that the holiday meant much more than barbecues and fireworks — that it was a celebration of the nation’s freedoms.
John Garcia, the secretary of the state Department of Veterans Services, asked for veterans to raise their hands or stand up, and many did just that. Then he asked those around them to shake their hands to thank them for their service to the country.
“How many here believe this is the world’s greatest country?” he asked.
The audience roared with approval.
Garcia, a Vietnam veteran, noted New Mexico’s extensive military history — from the Buffalo soldiers to those participating in the Bataan Death March to the servicemen and women in recent wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. New Mexico has also produced more than its share of servicemen and women for the nation’s wars, with 200,000 veterans now living in the state, he said.
The nation experienced a surge of patriotism after Sept. 11 when Americans rushed to stores to buy American flags, but Garcia urged people to continue to dedicate themselves to the principles of freedom contained in the Declaration of Independence.
In particular, Garcia focused on the last sentence of the declaration: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
That’s something veterans have always done in defense of the country, he said.
“That pledge didn’t go away,” he said. “Let’s rededicate ourselves to the founding principles.”
As such, Garcia said veterans should be first in line for housing, jobs and other services after they come back from war.
Victor Cordova, who is active in local veterans organizations, urged everyone to support the planned one-stop veterans center in the old National Guard Armory on Douglas Avenue.
“We need to help our veterans here. We can go to Washington, but right here is where our veterans need help,” he said.
He urged people to sign up to take part in the effort by the Northern New Mexico Community Development Corporation to make the one-stop center a reality. The city already received some money for the project; the building in question was damaged in a fire in the 1990s.
Mayor Tony Marquez said Gov. Bill Richardson thinks highly of veterans and that the governor would like to bring a planned veterans museum to Las Vegas.
Wearing shirt that read “USA,” Marquez, who is an official in the state Corrections Department, said he questioned why government spends $31,000 a year on each prisoner, while veterans get much less.
“We are free because of the brave. These are our heroes who stood up to evil countries and dictators,” he said.