Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park was the first major Vietnam
memorial in the United States. It is currently the only state park
dedicated exclusively to veterans of the Vietnam War. It is
located off United States Highway 64 in Angel Fire (Colfax County)
in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the Enchanted Circle of
northeastern New Mexico.
The memorial was begun by Victor and Jeanne Westphall, the
grief-stricken parents of Marine First Lieutenant David Westphall,
who was among sixteen young men in his unit killed in an ambush on
May 22, 1968 in Vietnam. The Westphalls used their son's insurance
policies to begin construction of the Peace and Brotherhood
Chapel. The chapel resembles a sail and perches on the hillside
overlooking the Moreno Valley. The chapel is open twenty-four
hours per day. The David Westphall Veterans Foundation has since
supported the operation of the memorial, which was dedicated on
the anniversary of David's death in 1971. At the time of its
construction, the site received national media attention and
helped inspire the establishment of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
in Washington, D.C., completed in 1982. In 1987, the United States
Congress recognized Angel Fire as a memorial of national
The park hosts thousands of annual visitors, many moved
emotionally by the sacrifice of the Vietnam veterans. In 2005, the
site became New Mexico's 33rd state park. It is operated in
partnership with the David Westphall Veterans Foundation, which
allows it to be the only New Mexico State Park that does not
charge a fee.
The Visitor Center, dedicated in 1986, features photographs and
banners from some of the 210 units which served in Vietnam. There
is a media room which shows the 86-minute Home Box Office
documentary film Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam. A
Veteran's Room honors the military personnel killed or missing in
action. The POW/MIA flag waves outside the center. The center
seeks to educate Americans about Vietnam and to maintain a haven
for healing and reconciliation.
The memorial maintains a Huey helicopter known originally as
"Viking Surprise," one of the first smokeships used in Vietnam. On
March 26, 1967, the helicopter, while rescuing service personnel,
was so bady damaged – 135 bullet holes – that it was returned to
the United States for repairs. The copter returned to Vietnam and
was later sent to the New Mexico National Guard, which donated it
to the Angel Fire memorial.
The memorial also maintains a statue by Doug Scott of Taos,
entitled "Dear Mom and Dad." It depicts a soldier, with his rifle
on his shoulder, writing a letter home. There is also a scale
model of the Vietnam Women's Memorial by Glenna Goodacre of Santa
Fe (born in Lubbock, Texas), which was unveiled on the Washington
Mall in 1993.
The Run for the Wall riders make Angel Fire and Vietnam Veterans
Memorial State Park one of their first stops on their trip to the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Up to 500 motorcycles
visit the Memorial on Friday the weekend before Memorial Day.
Also, starting in 1981, there has been a motorcycle rally from the
nearby town of Red River, New Mexico every Memorial Day weekend.
Most of the riders visit the Memorial during the rally. Up to
30,000 motorcyclists attend.