History of New Mexico Veterans

New Mexico Veterans Have Served Throughout U.S. History

Celebrating New Mexico Veterans’ History with Honor

The New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial honors those who have served in defense of our country. It tells their stories that reflect centuries of sacrifice for peace in a world often in conflict.

World War I Era

As the twentieth century dawned, most of the state’s traditional martial rivalries subsided. Conflicts of the past were replaced with new global wars that tested the resolve of all New Mexicans.

However, in 1916 “Pancho” Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico with is “Villistas” who were then pursued relentlessly by a “punitive expedition” in northern Mexico until February 1917.

The story was filled with adventure and intrigue that peaked when a coded German message to the Mexican government was intercepted.

It proposed an alliance between Germany and Mexico in the event of a war with the United States.

American neutrality in World War I was shattered and New Mexico’s National Guard then served with distinction in France during 1918, the final year of the war.


World War II Memorials at NM Vets Memorial Park Albuquerque New Mexico

World War II

When war broke out in Europe and Asia in 1939, the War Department suggested to the National Guard that their 111th Cavalry be converted to another branch of service. The age of the horse as a combatant had passed. Thus the officers and non-commissioned officers of the command jointly selected coast artillery.

In 1940, the 111th was re-designated the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment (AA) and the 158th was reorganized as the 104th Anti-Tank Battalion. On Jan. 6, 1940, these units, along with the 120th Engineer Regiment were called to active duty for a one year training period that became the prelude to some of the earliest combat experienced by American troops in WWII.

This included the defense of the Philippines with its infamous Bataan Death March in the Pacific and the invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Italy in the Mediterranean.

Development of the radio proximity-fused artillery shells, crucial to protecting the Navy’s ships from Kamikazes and to the Army’s defense of Bastogne, Belgium in 1944, together with the subsequent development of the atomic bomb, established New Mexico as a critical partner in the emerging relationship between science and the military that would grow in the decades to follow.


Navajo Code Talkers honored at the New Mexico Veterans' Memorial

Navajo Code Talkers

Communication is essential during any war and World War II was no different. From battalion to battalion or ship to ship – everyone must stay in contact to know when and where to attack or when to fall back. If the enemy were to hear these tactical conversations, not only would the element of surprise be lost, but the enemy could also reposition and get the upper hand. Codes (encryptions) were essential to protect these conversations.

Unfortunately, though codes were often used, they were also frequently broken. In 1942, a man named Philip Johnston thought of a code he thought unbreakable by the enemy. A code based on the Navajo language.

The Code

The initial code consisted of translations for 211 English words most frequently used in military conversations. Included in the list were terms for officers, terms for airplanes, terms for months, and an extensive general vocabulary. Also included were Navajo equivalents for the English alphabet so that the code talkers could spell out names or specific places.

Navajo Code Talker Memorial PlaqueOn the battlefield, the code was never written down, it was always spoken. In training, they had been repeatedly drilled with all 411 terms. The Navajo code talkers had to be able to send and receive the code as fast as possible. There was no time for hesitation. Trained and now fluent in the code, the Navajo code talkers were ready for battle.

From 1942 until 1945, Navajo code talkers participated in numerous battles in the Pacific, including Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Peleliu, and Tarawa. They not only worked in communications but also as regular soldiers, facing the same horrors of war as other soldiers.

Huddled over their radio sets in bobbing assault barges, in foxholes on the beach, in slit trenches, deep in the jungle, the Navajo Marines transmitted and received messages, orders, vital information. The Japanese ground their teeth and committed hari-kari.*

The Navajo code talkers played a large role in the Allied success in the Pacific. The Navajos had created a code the enemy was unable to decipher.

 

Bibliography

Bixler, Margaret T. Winds of Freedom: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. Darien, CT: Two Bytes Publishing Company, 1992.

Kawano, Kenji. Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Publishing Company, 1990.

Paul, Doris A. The Navajo Code Talkers. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Co., 1973.

* Excerpt from the September 18, 1945 issues of the San Diego Union as quoted in Doris A. Paul, The Navajo Code Talkers (Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Co., 1973) 99.

 


Honoring Korean War Veterans and Remembering the Cold War at New Mexico Veterans' Memorial

Korean & Cold Wars

Dismissed as the “forgotten war,” Korea was actually one of America’s most significant conflicts.

Troops remain in Korea along a demilitarized zone that remains the most heavily defended border in the world.

The Korean War triggered the buildup of U.S. forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and began American involvement in the Viet Nam War and, although seen as an aberration at the time, now serves as the very model for America’s wars of the future.

This monument was dedicated 25 June 2010 and was attended by approximately 100 Korean Americans with their Methodist pastor and about 500 American veterans of the Korean Conflict. There is an Annual commemoration on 25 June each year and is sponsored by the Korean War Veterans Association.

Troops remain in Korea along a demilitarized zone that remains the most heavily defended border in the world.