FARMINGTON — A series of events this weekend is aimed at showing appreciation for Korean War veterans.

The first event is an honor walk Upper Fruitland resident Mike Bekis is completing. He started the walk on Thursday in Baca-Prewitt Chapter along Interstate 40 east of the Thoreau Chapter. Saturday, the honor walk will continue at 8 a.m., starting at the intersection of N.M. Highway 371 and Navajo Route 36 and heading west to the Walter Collins Center.

On Friday, Bekis finished the second leg of the walk, arriving in Farmington from Thoreau in the evening. Throughout the 60-mile route, he carried a blue Korean War flag that displayed the war's years of combat — 1950 to 1953 — as well as words written in the Korean language and the phrase "Freedom is not free."

Mike Bekis holds a flag as a small group takes off on Friday during the Remember the Forgotten — Korean War Veterans Honor Walk as it travel on N.M.
Mike Bekis holds a flag as a small group takes off on Friday during the Remember the Forgotten — Korean War Veterans Honor Walk as it travel on N.M. Highway 371. (Alexa Rogals/ The Daily Times)

As Bekis, who organized the event, walked near the Raytheon's Diné Facility on N.M. Highway 371, he was joined by two girls and escorted by a New Mexico State Police patrol car.

Little by little, the number of participants grew, eventually reaching just short of a dozen, as the route moved closer to Farmington.

This is the sixth year for the veterans honor walk. Previous years have centered on World War II and Vietnam War veterans, but this year's event marked the first time the focus was on Korean War veterans.

In an interview Friday evening, Bekis, who is a U.S. Army veteran, said he decided to change the walk's focus after three Korean War veterans approached him during last year's event in Lake Valley Chapter.

He remembered their wrinkled faces, which he called "war maps," and the tears they shed when talking about how important such an event would be to them.

"I'm living up to what I promised them, so in my book they won't be forgotten," Bekis said.

Throughout the three-day walk, he was joined by three young Navajo men from Gallup and Fort Defiance, Ariz., and members of Bekis' basketball team.

In conjunction with the walk, there will also be a 9 a.m. honor motorcycle run from Baca-Prewitt Chapter to the Walter Collins Center, and an honor gourd dance and luncheon will take place at noon at the center.

Sam Sage will serve as master of ceremonies for the activities at the center. Sage, an Army veteran, said at least 10 Pendleton blankets — each with the phase "Grateful Nation" embroidered on them — will be presented to the Korean War veterans, who are traveling from chapters in the Northern and Eastern agencies.

"It does mean a lot to me to honor the older veterans," Sage said. "You can see their reactions when we present them with gifts."

Sage, like Bekis, comes from a long line of men who served in the U.S. military and saw battle in World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He views the honor walk, motorcycle run and gourd dance as a proper homecoming for the Korean War veterans.

"It's recognition for the veterans," Sage said.

IF YOU GO

Korean War honor walk

When: 8 a.m. Saturday

Where: Walk starts at the intersection of N.M. Highway 371 and Navajo Route 36. It proceeds west on Navajo Route 36 to the Walter Collins Center, located north of Navajo Route 36 on Indian Service Route 5085 in Upper Fruitland.

 

Korean War honor motorcycle run

When: 9 a.m. Saturday

Where: Starts in Baca-Prewitt Chapter and ends at the Walter Collins Center

 

Korean War gourd dance and luncheon

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Walter Collins Center

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.