Monday, July 29, 2013

The First Vietnam Veterans Memorial

In 1960s, Dr. Victor and Jeanne Westphall bought the 800 acre Val Verde ranch in the Moreno Valley, New Mexico with the idea of building a resort. On May 22, 1968, their son, Lt. Victor David Westphall and 13 others were ambushed and killed in Vietnam. Jeanne suggested they build a chapel to honor their son and the others. Doc did most of the work himself. All but five acres of the ranch were sold to finance the project.

Completed in 1971, the chapel was a very futuristic looking. Even today it is quite unique, offering a place of healing and remembering for all who enter.

After gaining support from American Disabled Verterans (DAV), Doc and the DAV approached the State of New Mexico to take over the operation and maintenance of the chapel. The State built an educational center and gift shop, while being careful to not over-shadow nor take away from the healing message of the chapel.

It is now the only state park in New Mexico to not charge admission nor close; evenings, weekends or holidays.

To all of those who served our country in the turbulent 1960s and 70's, these images of the memorial are for you.

Sitting on a hill overlooking Moreno Valley, Jeanne Westphall selected a soothing site for the chapel.

From a bench on the grounds, a view across the valley.

Entering the memorial grounds, the view is relaxing and calming.

Offering cool refugee for all who enter.

The first reminder of war. At the peak, there were over 500,000 service men and women in Vietnam. 58,000 were killed.

This particular Huey served as a smokeship, earning the name "Viking Surprise". Shot up while rescuing the crews of 13 downed helicopters in one mission, it was rebuilt on the USNS Corpus Christi where 135 bullet holes were discovered.

Walking to the chapel, one sees the wide valley below.

Inside, the chapel is simple, offering a healing remembrance of friends and family members lost, as well as for those who returned.

For those of us who are old enough to remember, who can forget the yellow ribbons tied to trees in every town, village and neighborhood across our country.

A peaceful walk to the visitor center.

Once inside, photos from veterans who choose to share their memories of Vietnam...

Making friends with the villagers...

Drinking water from a nearby stream...

Lt. Victor David Westphall III.

In the library is a book aptly titled, "10,000 Days of Thunder"

Every May on Memorial Day, hundreds upon hundreds of bikers and riders gather to remember family and friends who did not return from Vietnam.

If you are ever in northern New Mexico riding Route 64, stop at the memorial to remember. So that we shall never forget them.

During construction, Doc arrived one morning to find a note scrawled on a piece of plywood. It said "Why did you lock the doors when I needed to come in?" Since then, the doors have never been locked.

Nite Da'mit,

Nite all.


p.s. David is buried at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe. Both Doc and Jeanne Westphall are buried here on the memorial grounds.



  1. Thanks....just added this place to my bucket list...did not know it was there. Some old wounds never fully heal, but this place might really help. Photo of slick brings lump in the throat. Truly appreciate your sharing the memorial. GlennandSun

  2. Thanks Jon. I, too, did not know this existed. I would love to see it.

  3. Great posting Jan, a good reminder of sacrifices made in a war that damn near ripped the country apart....

  4. Never heard of this memorial. While exploring northern California recently, I came across the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden at the foot of Mt. Shasta. Amazing sculptures by Vietnam combat vet, Dennis Smith, honoring veterans from several wars. It was as powerful an experience as visiting the Wall in DC.

  5. Knowing that this memorial was privately build out of love for a lost son makes it all the more meaningful.