A cadre of boots with American flags jutting from them as if these were soldiers in formation, ready to march off.

Purple hearts and candles. The bible. And tears.

Monday was a Memorial Day to remember for about a hundred Rio Rancho residents — friends and family of the men and women who gave their lives for their country.

There were wives here, and mothers, brothers, sisters and children, aunts and uncles.

And the souls of heroes.

Purple Hearts and candles were on display at Veterans Memorial Park, along with pictures of the soldiers who earned them. (Garrison Wells/The Observer)

Rio Rancho’s remembrance “means a lot,” said Charles Walters, USMC retired, a Desert Storm veteran.

“Not only am I a veteran, my son was an Afghanistan veteran and we both had brothers and sisters who didn’t come home,” he said.

There is healing here, he said and the remembrance helps veterans “see how many people come out here to support this, and that does help us heal, too.”

Marty Cantu is commander of Chapter 176 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Soldiers earn purple hearts the hard way, by suffering a wound or being killed in action against a hostile force.

“I got hit twice,” Cantu Said. “But it was not my time. I am still here.”

The day wasn’t just about remembering. It was also about honoring.

One family got to see a fresh memorial brick that had been placed in the walls at Veterans Memorial Park in Rio Rancho for Lance Cpl. Jonathon Grant, USMC, who died in Iraq.

A flag was presented to his wife, Eva, and a bouquet of flowers to his mother, Amal Roybal.

Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull presents a bouquet to Amal Roybal, mother of fallen Lance Cpl. Jonathon Grant.

“It was great that we could honor his family,” said Thom Towell, USMC, a Vietnam veteran who had one tour before he earned his purple heart. “He died so long ago and we were able to hopefully bring more closure to his family. The door is never really closed, but this helps a bit for healing.”

After a bugler played taps and a 21-gun salute, Walters told the crowd that Memorial Day, “is a time when we reflect and honor our military brothers and sisters.”

The display of boots, he said, is a small fraction of the more than 700,000 U.S. soldiers killed or missing in action.

“We will never forget you,” he said.

Indeed, the freedom that Americans enjoy “comes at a great cost and a very high price,” said Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull. “That’s why we take this day to be a solemn day, to remember and reflect on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we enjoy in this great country.”

For the family of Grant, this was very personal day. They touched his brick in final goodbyes after it was unveiled.

Jonathon W. Grant was memorialized Monday at Rio Rancho Veterans Memorial Park (Garrison Wells/The Observer)

As the crowd headed out, Alma Roybal spent several quiet moments alone, kneeling in front of the candle and purple heart above his picture.

“Jonathan,” she said, “was my son. I am very proud of my son. I miss him so much.”

Alma Roybal kneels at her son Jonathon Grant’s picture and purple heart. (Garrison Wells/The Observer)


A letter read at the Memorial Day Remembrance at Veterans Memorial Park in Rio Rancho

Tommy was 21 years old. He spent three years as a POW during WWII including time on a Hell Ship. He wrote his farewell message to his parents on the backs of two family photographs which were smuggled from one prisoner to another and finally making their way to his parents in 1945. He never came home.

  • World War II
  • Lt. Tommy Kennedy
  • In a letter written to his mother and father
  • Date unknown

Mommy and Dad, 

It’s pretty hard to check out this way without a fighting chance. But we can’t live forever. I’m not afraid to die, I just hate the thought of not seeing you again.

Buy Turkey Ranch with my money and just think of me often while you are there.

Make liberal donations to both of my sisters. See that Gary has a new car for his first year of high school…

I guess you can tell Patty that fate just did not want us together .

Hold a nice service for me in Bakersfield and put a headstone at the new cemetery. Take care of my nieces and nephews. Don’t let them ever want as I want for comfort and warmth.

Loving and waiting for you from the world beyond,

Your son,
Lt. Tommy Kennedy.