Farmington veteran receives Purple Heart after 45 years

Joshua Kellogg The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Ricketts Field was filed with thunderous applause Wednesday night as a 66-year-old Vietnam War veteran was recognized after recently receiving a Purple Heart medal after a 45-year wait.

With the help of friends, Farmington resident and U.S. Army veteran Ray Ledesma was awarded the Purple Heart and four other medals in March after being wounded in combat in 1970.

"It was a relief after 45 years, I finally got something I should have gotten 45 years ago," Ledesma said.

He was awarded the Purple Heart, a Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze service stars, a Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm unit citation, a Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Medal First Class unit citation and an Expert Marksmanship qualification badge.

The ceremony Wednesday night was organized by Ledesma's friends and Bill Simkins, coordinator of Four Corners Warriors Extreme Adventure.

Simkins said friends of Ledesma reached out to him earlier this year and wanted to arrange an opportunity to have the community honor Ledesma.

As a specialist with the 2nd Battalion, 33rd Artillery, 1st Infantry Division, Ledesma was shot in both legs during combat in January 1970.

"I've got these wounds on my legs I've been looking at 45 years," Ledesma said. "Now I got a medal for serving our country."

The process for Ledesma to receive his commendations started when former co-workers Tim Gifford and Janet Ray at BP America asked him why he didn't receive a Purple Heart.

Ledesma spent 30 years working as a field technician in Amoco and BP's Wyoming and New Mexico operations.

Gifford, a construction planner for BP America, pinned Ledesma's Purple Heart onto his chest during the ceremony.

Ledesma was introduced to the crowd by Beverly Charley, a veterans service officer at the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services.

Charley helped Ledesma file the paperwork last year to correct his military records to show he was wounded during battle and eligible for the medals.

Ledesma received a letter in February stating a mistake had been made, and he would be receiving the five medals.

It was important for Charley to make sure Ledesma was recognized for his efforts, especially since he was a Vietnam War veteran.

"A lot of them were not necessarily welcomed home and thanked for their service," Charley said.

Ledesma said he got "blackballed" when he returned home after being honorably discharged and dealt with the backlash of the war, with people telling him the Army killed women and children in Vietnam.

"It wasn't very pleasant coming back," Ledesma said. "They surely didn't like veterans back then."

Simkins said Ledesma will be spending time with 10 other veterans traveling here as part of the Four Corners Warriors Extreme Adventure.

Sponsored by Crossroads Community Church of Farmington and donations from area businesses and individuals, the program brings in veterans to treat them to a week-long vacation starting today.

They will be traveling around the Four Corners and participating in activities like rock crawling and fly fishing.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.