Freedom Beat Across America: In Search of America's Heartbeat

Aug 4th — Day Four

Well, I’d like to start out with the brothel we ended up in this afternoon, but I’m seriously obsessive about certain things. So I’ll go chronologically.
Our first item on today’s agenda was a brief stop at Verizon to upgrade Dottie’s phone, mostly because she lost the other one but she was due for an upgrade anyway, so hey.

Then we cruised to the north side of Santa Fe to visit the National Cemetery. It was designated a National Cemetery in 1896, conducts over 1,400 burials each year and eight Medal of Honor recipients are buried there. It might not be as big as, say, the one in D.C. or San Diego, but unfortunately it’s growing. The crew was out laying new sod on more than one hillside. When we first arrived, we looked for signs and/or parking and found neither, so we drove on up the hill and parked. The view was sobering, all those tombstones beneath the rolling mountains. Even more sobering was the official who drove up and told us that, for privacy reasons, we couldn’t film or take pictures without checking in with the administrator. No problem, we would’ve done that immediately if we’d had some idea where she was. We finally found the proper place to park, and the folks inside couldn’t have been nicer. Dottie explained our quest to the Administrative Officer, Marita Smith. She perused our proposal, made a few phone calls and wished us well. We all filled out an Agreement for Filming in which we promised not to film any interment in progress, not to bother anyone, to “at all times behave in a manner respectful” of the cemetery as a shrine, not to place any props or equipment on headstones, and of course, not to sue the Cemetery if we pull a frathouse flop and hurt ourselves. It all went in the computer. So now we are on the government’s list. Terrific. I’m kidding – we completely understand and appreciate their concerns. After all, the callous disrespect of certain types is a large part of why we are doing this film at all. We were pleased with them; they were pleased with us. Very satisfactory visit.
Our next stop was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park in Angel Fire, New Mexico. In the 1960’s, Dr. Victor Westphall and his wife Jeanne purchased the 800 acre Val Verde Ranch with the intention of building a resort. When their son was killed in Viet Nam on May 22, 1968, they built a chapel to honor him and over the years sold all but five acres to finance the project. On Veteran’s Day 2005 the site became the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park, the first and only state park in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to Vietnam veterans. Seriously? Come on, America, why is that?

A peaceful place

In 1994 “Doc” and friends traveled to Vietnam to visit the site where his son was killed. He took a handful of Vietnamese soil back with him and scattered it on the site of the memorial. Now there is a visitor center, gift shop and touching displays. The hours of the memorial vary, but the chapel itself is never closed. Inside we found thirteen photos of Viet Nam vets displayed. A different state is honored each month, and today I saw the portraits of twelve young men who never returned to New Hampshire. The thirteenth is always Dr. Westphall’s son.
When we first arrived, I went immediately in search of someone to ask if it was okay to film and take pictures (considering our previous experience) and somehow ended up in the tiny gift shop. I took one look at the badges and posters on the wall and immediately burst into tears. Completely unexpected, and I apologized to the woman behind the counter. She reached down, brought out a box of tissues and said, “Happens all the time.” I noticed nearly a dozen boxes of tissues placed within reach on the pews of the chapel. Happens all the time. Walking through the grounds, I was struck by the presence of so many men my age. All silent. An older gentleman was sitting on a bench and I asked if he was a vet. He said yes, he served in Korea. He pondered a moment and then said, “Korea got lost.” Thinking he meant the political disaster, I struggled to think of something intelligent to say, until he went on, “No one ever remembers us. People praised World War II vets, they condemned Viet Nam. Korea got lost.” I left him silently gazing at the memorial.
There’s a research library, artifacts, walkway bricks that can be bought to honor the name of a vet, and a Huey known as Viking Surprise from the 121st AHC that came home with 135 bullet holes in it. It was fixed up and sent back to serve a second tour with the 118th. I found some new trees planted with a magnificent view of the valley and the far mountains, and vowed to return years from now to see how big they got. Hopefully the valley won’t be full of condos by then.
Okay, after that emotional catharsis, we stopped in Eagle Nest for lunch. It’s not a typo – the story is there was only one eagle but it was a big nest. Anyway, in the process of eating a fantastic meal at Calamity Jane’s Laguna Vista Restaurant, we discovered that the bar itself was the original building that housed the bar and saloon. The building which is now the restaurant later became the local brothel, welcoming hundreds of miners, cowboys and trappers who worked the area there in the northeast corner of New Mexico. All the staff was warm and welcoming as only a small western town can be, and our guide, Melissa Armijo, took us on a tour upstairs to the “girl’s” rooms. The beds are gone, replaced by dining tables for small groups, but most of the walls of the eight rooms and the narrow Victorian-lamp-lit hallway still have the original wallpaper. Talk about atmosphere. Only two of the rooms have their own built-in sinks, and it’s assumed those were the rooms of the higher-priced ladies. So the Four Broads in a Bus visited a Brothel!

Check out this link for the Laguna Vista Lodge:

And this one for the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial:


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