Members of the Aztec JROTC program sound off prior to a Veterans Day parade Saturday on Main Street in Aztec.
Members of the Aztec JROTC program sound off prior to a Veterans Day parade Saturday on Main Street in Aztec. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

AZTEC — After eating breakfast Saturday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Aztec, Korean War veteran Richard Martzall recalled a moment during combat in which he and his men were surrounded.

But, despite the hardships he faced during the war, Martzall said he wouldn't trade the experience. And the Aztec resident added that it is important for people to remember this country's veterans.

"We wouldn't be free without them," Martzall said.

The city of Aztec celebrated and remembered past and present members of the armed forces Saturday with a parade in downtown Aztec and a free pancake breakfast at the VFW post.

Butch Condrey, a Vietnam War veteran who was Farmington's 2011 Veteran of the Year, attended both the breakfast and the parade.

Condrey was drafted six months after graduating from high school. Prior to his military service, he had never left New Mexico. Condrey served in the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman, assigned to the Fleet Marine Force. His job was to save the lives of Marines.

Condrey said the armed forces protect the country and the things its citizens believe in.

"That's why I went," he said.

Ten years ago, people filled downtown Aztec during the annual Veterans Day parade, said Jerrie Frame, who attended this year's parade. Now, Frame fears people have become apathetic.

"I don't think people realize what they do for us and how they protect our freedom," Frame said of the country's veterans.

Frame lost her son two decades ago when he was on a training mission in Germany with the U.S. Army. She said officials think he suffered an allergic reaction and went into cardiac arrest.

Twelve minutes later, Frame said her father died in Aztec. She said she thinks her son picked up her father on the way to heaven.

Even though she misses her son even more during the parade, Frame attends it every year.

Other people at the parade showed support for family members who are currently serving.

"The biggest reward is when you know your loved one is safe," said Alberta Begay, a member of the Four Corners Blue Star Mothers, while lining up for the parade.

Her daughter, Ellisa Begay, served in the Army until she injured her leg during a routine drill this year.

Alberta Begay's father, husband and two uncles also served in the military. She said her uncles were Navajo Code Talkers in World War II, and her father was a member of the Marines during World War II.

"I think truly freedom is not free," Alberta Begay said. "It costs us. Each and every one of us."

Tim Gordon also participated in Saturday's Veterans Day events. Gordon served in the U.S. Air Force from 1965 to 1969, including one year in Vietnam during the war. He was part of a security force made up of people from various squadrons who were trained on weapons and search and seizure.

When he arrived in Vietnam, it was in the middle of the Tet Offensive, and his base was often under attack.

"For the first six months of the war, I never even took my shoes off to sleep because you didn't know what was going to happen," he said.

For Gordon, Veterans Day is a day set aside to thank the troops and show support for them. Gordon thinks that the backlash many veterans received after serving in the Vietnam War is part of the reason why there is now so much emphasis on supporting the troops.

"I was even told once I got out of the service not to wear my uniform home," he said.

After the reaction many Vietnam War veterans received upon returning home, Gordon said vets pushed for that never to happen again.

"Never again will we allow the troops not to be respected," he said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.