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Photos by Jeff Endicott The Vietnam Veterans Peace and Brotherhood Chapel at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, NM.

The Story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire

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The story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico began 52 years ago on May 22, 1968, when the parents of Lt. David Westphall received notice of their son’s death in Vietnam. Lt. Westphall, USMC, was leading a patrol in Con Thien when his platoon was ambushed and thirteen men were killed in action.


David Westphall had enlisted in the Marine Corps and left for college after his initial four-year enlistment was over. He received a degree in Spanish from the University of Montana and rejoined the Marines, receiving a commission as an officer. He was assigned as platoon leader of Company B, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, and was deployed to Vietnam. David had survived the bite of a deadly viper only to succumb to bullet wounds on that fateful day in May.


David’s father, Dr. Victor Westphall, himself a WW II Navy veteran, with his wife Jeanne, had purchased 900 acres in the Val Verde Ranch with the objective of building a ski resort and golf course. This property had become David’s favorite place to visit when he was on leave from the Corps. Victor and Jeanne and their youngest son, Walter, made two decisions following David’s death; first, to have David buried at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe, and second, to build a chapel on the Angel Fire site, not only in honor of their son, but for all Vietnam veterans killed and missing in action. Lacking the funds to undertake such a project, David and Jeanne sold all but five of the 900 acres and also used their son’s military life insurance to make their dream a reality.


The Westphalls conceived of a chapel that would be built by volunteers with personal funds. They designed the chapel and began construction on the Vietnam Veterans Peace and Brotherhood Chapel until funding ran out. Victor convinced the Disabled American Veterans to provide additional funding amounting to $100,000 in contributions over a period of ten years. The result is a striking architectural statement that inspires reflection. It was consecrated three years after David’s death, on July 15, 1971, along with a personal letter from President Richard M. Nixon.


In 1982, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) assumed joint ownership of the chapel, purchasing an additional 25 acres to add a visitor center and museum. In May of 1986, the Westphall Visitor Center was dedicated. In 1998, ownership of the memorial was transferred from the DAV to the David Westphall Veterans Foundation, a non-profit organization.


Dr. Westphall passed away in 2003 and his wife Jeanne the following year. They’re interred together on the memorial grounds. Their son, Walter Westphall, a US Air Force pilot during the Vietnam conflict, continues to actively participate in the perpetuation of the memorial.


Ownership of the memorial was transferred again in 2005, to New Mexico State Parks, after which a number of signature events took place; the enduring bricklaying program and the acquisition of the UH-1H helicopter SN 64-13670, later restored by the New Mexico National Guard and prominently displayed at the entrance.


In July 2017, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was transferred from the jurisdiction of New Mexico State Parks to the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services (DVS). The manager of this hallowed site and inspiring memorial is Mr. D.B. Herbst (USMC Ret.), who does a remarkable job.


In 2018, a groundbreaking ceremony heralded the beginning of the Angel Fire Veterans Cemetery. There are plans for a scaled replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at some future date.


Words cannot describe how the memorial moves the heart. It’s a site of incredible physical beauty, overlooking the vast Moreno Valley. It is a place of reflection, rededication to the lives of those lost to war, and commemoration of their ultimate sacrifice. When you visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, plan to spend the entire day, as there is so much to see. You can get lost in just the museum and its extraordinary exhibits alone. Every day award-winning films on the Vietnam War are shown as well. Please visit the Blue Star Garden maintained by the volunteers of the Angel Fire Blue Star Garden Club. There are other places for reflection including the Tranquility Fountain. The amphitheater was completed in 2007, and is the site of many veterans programs throughout the year.


The chapel and grounds are always open. The Visitor Center, Gift Shop, Library, and Museum are open daily from 9 am – 5 pm, and are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Guided tours of the grounds and the museum are available on request. Visitors from around the world visit the site and sign the register. If you visit, you will leave a different person.


There are no entrance fees, and donations are gratefully accepted. Please visit us at 34 Country Club Road in Angel Fire. Please mail donations to PO Box 242, Angel Fire, NM 87110. For information, please call (575) 377-2293 for more information.

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