FARMINGTON — A fallen hero has finally come home.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kenneth Lee Worley was honored Wednesday during a portrait unveiling ceremony at the Farmington Museum.
The Farmington native was killed Aug. 12, 1968, in Vietnam's Bo Ban Hamlet, Quang Nam Province. Worley, a machine gunner with Company Lima, threw his body over a grenade to protect his fellow Marines.
He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor two years later and is the only New Mexican Marine to receive the honor.
During Wednesday's ceremony, a hand-drawn portrait of Worley by artist and Vietnam War veteran Michael Reagan was given a permanent home at the museum. Reagan, who lives near Seattle, draws portraits of fallen veterans at no charge. He has drawn more than 3,000 portraits as part of Project Fallen Heroes.
Vietnam veteran John Nunn, who served in the same platoon as Reagan, delivered the framed portrait on Reagan's behalf.
Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts welcomed about 50 people to the ceremony, and Navy Adm. Bruce Black delivered the keynote speech.
Black called Worley " a true Farmingtonian, a true New Mexican, a true native of this land," during his remarks.
"Enlisted Marines sign a blank check, up to and including their lives. The difference is that Ken Worley cashed his own check. He didn't wait. He cashed it himself," Black said. "He went above and beyond the call of duty, and that's why we're here today."
Worley enlisted at age 19 and was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He served as a rifleman and was promoted to lance corporal on May 1, 1968. He died at age 20.
"Today, Ken, we want you to know your life was not in vain," Black said during his speech. "Well done, Worley. This is a homecoming for Ken, at least in our hearts."
Black and retired Air Force Master Sgt. Bruce Salisbury have worked for more than a decade to ensure fallen heroes have a homecoming. Much of Worley's story has been enshrouded in mystery, due in part to Worley's penchant for moving around and, at one point, changing his name.
"We began the search for Worley after we discovered his paperwork said he was from Farmington," Salisbury said. "He left here at the age of 16, moved to Truth or Consequences to stay with his aunt. He eventually went out to California, where he was adopted by a family there before enlisting and heading off to Vietnam."
Salisbury helped find a home for the portrait after he was contacted by the artist.
Two Marines, retired Lt. Col. Clyde Chappell and retired Gunnery Sgt. Bob Nichols, saw combat during the Vietnam War in the same unit as Worley, though not at the same time. They stood alongside Salisbury during the portrait's unveiling.
"It's been like herding cats on horseback because Worley has been so unknown," Salisbury said of gathering information on Worley. "I'm so glad that the city, the mayor, the city council and the museum have wrapped their arms around this project. It truly is a homecoming, bringing Worley's portrait to his hometown and to gather together Marines on this day."
Since 2008, Salisbury has also been working with the nonprofit Mount MIA/KIA memorial to raise money to have a bronze sculpture of Worley installed in Farmington's All Veterans Memorial Park.
"The Worley fund has about $6,000 in it, and as soon as we reach $10,000, we are going to write a letter of intent and deliver it to the sculptor chosen for the job," Salisbury said. "My hope is to show people here that Worley is a true hero and should be remembered."