'It's a good day' — National Vietnam War Veterans Day parade honors Shiprock vets

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

SHIPROCK — Vietnam veteran Albert Willie climbed into the back of his friend's pickup truck to connect speakers so they could play music during the National Vietnam War Veterans Day parade on April 2.

"It's a good day for Vietnam veterans," he said.

Willie, who served in the Army, is among veterans of that era who were ignored and disrespected when they returned to the United States from Vietnam.

That sentiment did not stop Willie and his friend, Sammy Ahkeah, from commending fellow Vietnam veterans throughout the years in parades and events in Shiprock.

"All these years we didn't recognize Vietnam veterans, that's why we got involved," said Ahkeah, who went to Vietnam six times under the Navy.

Vietnam veteran Albert Willie gets ready for the 2022 National Vietnam War Veterans Day parade on April 2 in Shiprock.

Honoring the service and giving thanks to Vietnam veterans is why March 29 was designated as National Vietnam War Veterans Day in 2017 by Congress and President Donald Trump.

The parade started at the Shiprock Chapter house, and that's where the Curley family from Farmington were decorating their vehicle in honor of Navy veteran Lloyd Begaye of Shiprock.

Jasmine Curley, one of Begaye's granddaughters, was adding the color yellow underneath the words, "welcome home," painted on the vehicle.

"We're doing this to honor him," said Winona Curley, Jasmine's mom and Begaye's daughter.

'Answer a call to serve':Ceremony honors Vietnam veterans in Farmington

Veterans walk on U.S. Highway 491 in Shiprock during the 2022 National Vietnam War Veterans Day parade on April 2.

There were two reasons why Jocelyn Billy-Upshaw was participating in the parade.

The first was to recognize Vietnam veterans and the second was to share information about the USNS Navajo, the ship the Navy announced in 2019 as part of a new class of towing, salvage and rescue ships.

Construction continues on the ship as of October 2021, according to a Navy news release.

Billy-Upshaw, a former Miss Navajo Nation, is the ship's sponsor, an honor bestowed on her by the Secretary of the Navy.

Dusty Rae Smith, Chinle High School Miss Tseyi 2019-2021, left, and Tria Holtsoi, Chinle High School Miss Tseyi 2021-2022, walk in the 2022 National Vietnam War Veterans Day parade on April 2 in Shiprock.

She noted that Native Americans serve in the military at a higher rate than any demographic in the country.

"They're the reason why Sen. John McCain wanted to name this fleet," she said about the late senator's advocacy to name the new class and its first ship after the Navajo Nation.

The overall event included a program, remembrance walks, a horse trail ride and motorcycle honor rides. It was organized by the Northern Agency Veterans National Vietnam War Veterans Day Committee.

Annie Coots stood near the large tent that housed the program, where veterans gathered with their families and community members after the parade.

More:World War II, Korean War veteran honored in ceremony at San Juan College

Parade entries proceed on U.S. Highway 491 in Shiprock during the 2022 National Vietnam War Veterans Day parade on April 2.

Coots joined the Army after nursing school and served at the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City – from 1965 to 1966.

She explained that curiosity drew her to the event on Saturday.

"I wanted to see what it was about. I've never been to any event like this," said Coots, who is originally from Red Valley, Arizona but now lives in Albuquerque.

When asking if the event recalls memories of Vietnam, she replied, "yeah."

Coots has continued her nursing career for more than 50 years. She explained that she thought about the war during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her memories were triggered whenever she heard reports about someone dying alone because of restrictions that barred family members from hospitals and nursing homes.

Members of the Shiprock Chapter Veterans Organization participate in the 2022 National Vietnam War Veterans Day parade on April 2 in Shiprock.

"I saw that in Vietnam with the young people. They were alone, nobody there, no family," she said as tears developed in her eyes. She relaxed after getting a hug from her sister.

There were speeches during the program as well as prayers and songs for the veterans.

Shiprock resident D Johnson sang a song for honor and memorial while playing a hand drum.

"It's in remembrance of all the brothers and sisters who didn’t come back from Vietnam," he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e