FARMINGTON — It took several days for the U.S. Army to find Judith Bedonie in June 1972.

Her 19-year-old husband was killed in the Vietnam War, but she had no idea. She was 22, living in a rural area of the Navajo Nation in a small home off the beaten path. She had no way of knowing what happened.

The day the Army found her, she was at home, taking care of the couple's two children, when she heard a knock on the door.

"He was a crew chief on a flight, and his flight blew up. There was nothing left of him," Bedonie said of her late husband. "Since then, I've been suffering like a vet."

Forty years ago on Friday, the last American combat troops left the war in Vietnam.

The troops did not receive the same welcome that troops do now or that troops did before the Vietnam War. The war was one of the most controversial in U.S. history.

This week, however, a group of about 20 Navajo locals including Bedonie honored the men and women whose lives were changed by the Vietnam War.

The group has been walking since Monday, when they started at the Thoreau Chapter in Thoreau. Today, they will end their journey around noon at the Upper Fruitland Chapter House, across from the Walter Collins Center in Upper Fruitland. In all, they will have walked 117 miles.

The walk, and also a separate motorcycle bike run, honors Vietnam War veterans, both living and deceased, and their families. The public is invited to greet both groups at the chapter house today.

Much of the group's walk has been on N.M. Highway 371, also known as the Vietnam Veterans Highway.

Some of those walking were Vietnam veterans, a handful of whom spoke about their service overseas. Others could not bring themselves to talk about it.

"What I went through, it was bad," said Lewis Izel, who served as an infantry man in the Army from 1967 to 1969.
Navajo veterans and family members walk along N.M. Highway 371 to complete the last leg of a 117 mile journey to honor Vietnam veterans on March 29.
Navajo veterans and family members walk along N.M. Highway 371 to complete the last leg of a 117 mile journey to honor Vietnam veterans on March 29. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)


Like many young men, the army drafted Izel against his will. He did not want to serve because he had lost a brother in the Korean War and another one one who he never met in World War II.

"One thing you think about is your mother and father," Izel said. "Sometimes, you cried like you were 7 years old."

The journey made many of the veterans feel as though they were doing something to give their "brothers" a late welcome home, even if they never had one.

"People were throwing eggs at them, calling them names, calling them baby killers," said Robin Wood, a former Army sergeant, of how the veterans were treated when they returned home.

Wood did not serve in Vietnam, though he feels strongly tied to those who did.

"I had close relatives that never came back," he said.

Of those that did return, many of them were not the same, nor were their families.

"I feel for my brother. He cries," said one of the walk's organizers, Mike Bekis, referring collectively to Vietnam veterans. "All the noise of the jungle. When he opens up a can of soda the way it sounds you dive into a corner."

Bekis, also a veteran, served briefly in Vietnam and said he hopes that the walk gives the people changed by the war some closure.

"I'm doing what I can," he said.

Some of the veterans admitted to taking pills just to sleep, and some just shook their heads, saying they could not put into words how they had changed more than 40 years ago.

"Sometimes you see ghosts. It's all in your brain. How are you going to forget about it?" Izel said.

Jenny Kane can be reached at jkane@daily-times.com; 505-564-4636. Follow her on Twitter@Jenny_Kane.