Community honors the fallen on Memorial Day

Events throughout San Juan County and the Navajo Nation honored veterans who have died in service of their country

James Fenton
  • Veterans organizations in Upper Fruitland hosted flag folding ceremonies for relatives of military servicemen and women.
  • About 250 people paid their respects during a Memorial Day service at Memory Gardens cemetery in Farmington.
  • U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján a pinned four belated medals on the lapel of Korean War veteran Henry Frink.
About 250 people attended a Memorial Day service on Monday at Memory Gardens in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — Several local events on Memorial Day underscored the debt the community has to veterans and the importance of remembering those who died in service to their country.

At the Upper Fruitland Chapter House today, family members came by with American flags to honor their loved ones who died in war or served in the U.S. military and are now deceased.

Alvis Kee served four years during the Vietnam War as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Kee arrived before dawn to lower the chapter house's flags to half-staff until noon, a military tradition on Memorial Day. From noon to sunset, the flag is raised back to the top to honor those who have gone into harm's way in the theater of war.

Early on Memorial Day, Kee and members of the Upper Fruitland Veterans Color and Honor Guard led flag folding ceremonies for family members who came to the chapter house.

Kee said his unit has offered the service at the chapter house just southwest of Farmington for three years. He said he was prompted to organize the event after seeing flag-folding ceremonies elsewhere that were not conducted properly.

"We need to show the proper etiquette, as well as the deepest respect for not only the flag but the family member who is caring for it," Kee said. "(We do it) for members of the service who were killed in the line of duty or for any veterans who have since passed on. We do it for as many people as we can. It's just an honor to do such a thing for them. We try to show that we really do care and have not forgotten."

During each ceremony, the Color Guard unit carefully unfolded and refolded flags into the shape of a tri-cornered hat, a symbolic configuration that evoked the triangular hats worn by colonial soldiers during the American Revolutionary War.

Disabled Vietnam War veteran Howard Talk, 63, sat in the chapter house today. He said he was there reflecting on the life of his father, David Talk, who was a Navajo Code Talker with the U.S. Army during World War II.

"I have respect for my dad and all veterans," he said. "I wish my dad were here. But he's not here no more. That's why I'm here."

Helen P. Waddoups, 65, came to the chapter house to honor her late husband, Andrew Wesley, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Wesley died in 2010, she said. She brought her husband's flag for a folding ceremony.

"I'm hurt. I wish he was here," she said, through tears. "It makes me feel that he's still with me. It makes me feel like I can go on. At times, I feel like I can't go on. But this helps."

Later in the day, about 250 people gathered at Farmington's Memory Gardens cemetery to honor veterans.

Vietnam War veteran Joe Lee Kieyoomi, who was a corporal for three years in the Marine Corps, attended the service at the cemetery, standing beside his father's grave. Afterward, he knelt down at the grave of his father, Joe Lee Kieyoomia Sr., a survivor of the Bataan Death March during World War II.

Part of New Mexico's 200th Coast Artillery unit, his father was also a prisoner of war in Nagasaki, Japan, during the atomic bombing, captured by the Imperial Japanese Army after the fall of the Philippines in 1942. He survived and came home after the war.

Kieyoomi said the Japanese military initially thought his father was a traitor. He said his father was tortured because they believed he was Japanese, due to his last name sounding like a Japanese surname.

The son said he believes the confusion may have actually helped spare his father's life while he was held prisoner in a concentration camp in Japan for three years. Kieyoomia is actually a Hopi word that means harvest, he said.

Kieyoomia, 64, is from Naschitti and said he comes to visit his father's grave as often as he can.

"My dad, all the veterans who fought in foreign wars, I grieve for them. I experienced it," he said. "It's sad. It gets emotional. I'm lucky."

From left, Rosemary Kutch, Rock Leonard, 12, Kim Leonard and Creed Leonard, 10, visit the grave of John Kutch, the late husband of Rosemary Kutch and a World War II veteran, during a Memorial Day service on Monday at Memory Gardens in Farmington.

Bloomfield resident Rosemary Kutch came to the cemetery service to honor her two husbands — John M. Kutch, a World War II veteran, and Don C. Bloomfield, a prisoner of war during World War II.

Kutch, 93, said she has a lot of respect for veterans, living and dead.

"This is a nice thing that they do to honor the vets," she said. "I have a great deal of gratitude for them and for all veterans throughout history who have fought for our freedoms."

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, left, awards Henry Frink the Good Conduct Medal during a ceremony on Monday at Vietnam Veterans Park in Farmington. Frink also received the National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal.

In the afternoon, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and the Aztec Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 614 assembled at Vietnam Veteran Park on North Butler Avenue in Farmington to honor the fallen and recognize a "community hero" who never received recognition for his service.

Luján pinned four belated medals — the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal — on the lapel of Korean War veteran Henry Frink, of Farmington.

Frink, who will turn 83 Tuesday, was a Specialist 3rd Class Radio Operator in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Luján, a Democrat who represents the state's 3rd Congressional District, thanked Frink for his service.

"This is an example of the families that do not let the memories and the stories go by without being recognized," Luján said, standing beside Frink. "That's what Memorial Day is all about."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.