The names of veterans who no longer walk this Earth rolled off tongues once again Dec. 14 in Vista Verde Memorial Park.
For the first time, a Wreaths Across America ceremony happened in Rio Rancho. The nationwide observance, which began on a small scale in 1992 at Arlington National Cemetery, includes volunteers laying wreaths on the graves of veterans and saying their names out loud to honor and remember them.
“When you say their name, they live again,” said retired Army Col. John Alvarado, a member of the local American Legion and Knights of Columbus, at the ceremony.
American Legion Post 118, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5890 and Knights of Columbus Assembly 3309 sponsored the event.
Cleveland High School Army JROTC members, Rio Rancho High School Marine JROTC members, Boy Scouts from Troop 702 and other community members participated. The ceremony involved presentation of the colors, several speakers and laying of wreaths in honor of veterans of each branch of the military, as well as prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Then, attendees laid the 63 available wreaths on veterans’ graves, or often between two graves to honor as many individuals as possible. Alvarado said about 2,000 veterans are interred at Vista Verde.
Retired Army Col. Norbert Archibeque, who served with Alvarado, gave the keynote speech. He said the 1 percent of the U.S. population willing to defend the nation in the military gives so much liberty to the country and pays a tremendous price.
“When they come home, they are a different person,” he said.
Veterans’ families pay a price, too, and communities need to rally around them and the veterans, he said. People often ask Archibeque how it felt to get a Purple Heart. He said he tells them it hurt, and he still lives with the effects of it.
“We are here today because it’s the right thing to do,” Archibeque said.
After Archibeque’s speech, Knights of Columbus member Tom Plate told how his late wife, Sharon, helped push for the unidentified Vietnam War service member interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to be exhumed so his DNA could be tested to see if he was her former classmate, 2nd Lt. Michael Blassie. When she and the Blassie family succeeded in getting the DNA test in 1998, the man was identified as Blassie and moved to be nearer loved ones.