Santa Fe New Mexican
Ceremony honors Purple Heart recipients as ‘Heroes’ program expands
Ceremony recognizes Purple Heart recipients as Santa Fe expands ‘Heroes’ banner program
As the decades have gone by, Roger Newall’s memories of his service with the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War haven’t faded. Nor has his appreciation for his fellow Purple Heart recipients.
Newall, an Albuquerque native who now works with veterans service organizations, helping military veterans find housing, was the keynote speaker at Saturday’s Purple Heart Recognition ceremony outside the Bataan Memorial Building in Santa Fe. He was joined by about a dozen other veterans who have received the military’s award for those wounded in battle.
“The unique thing about the Purple Heart,” Newall told the crowd, is that “you cannot request a Purple Heart. And people who wear this Purple Heart, I will tell you, they wear it not for themselves because they’re recognized. They wear it for the others they were with.”
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and New Mexico Veterans Services Secretary Judy Griego also spoke at Saturday’s event, which came as the city announced it will expand its “Hometown Heroes” banners program, putting up another 30 banners along Cerrillos Road between Rodeo Road and Interstate 25 in honor of local veterans. So far, 20 banners are displayed along the corridor. They will remain until Nov. 18, the city said.
Among the honorees are Army Pvt. Conrado Lucero, who served in World War I from 1917-19, and Master Sgt. Leroy Petry, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 1999 to 2014 and received the Medal of Honor.
After Saturday’s ceremony, Newall, who turns 75 this month, recounted with a mix of candor and amusement his harrowing experience in September 1967 as an Air Force airman in a C-123 transport coming under enemy mortar fire outside Saigon.
“I had been in the country just about 30 days,” Newall said. “I was five days from finishing my second year in the service. And we took a group of special forces troops to a special forces camp by the border. When we landed, we were mortared.
“We were crosswise on the runway, trying to turn around, when the first one went off,” Newall added. “The next couple went off.”
He was hit with shrapnel through the door of the plane, he said. “I was the only one on the plane wounded.”
Newall said he didn’t realize he was hurt until one of his fellow soldiers offered up some battlefield humor, saying, “Roger, you got pretty excited back there. … Your pants are wet.”
“I had shrapnel across my gut,” Newall said, “so we went to the hospital and finished it up.”
Newall said he made a full recovery, and fast.
“I was actually flying two days later,” he said. “I was sitting around having a beer that night, feeling no pain, finally. And the ops officer came in and asked how I felt. And I said, ‘Well, under the circumstances, I feel great.’ He says, ‘Well I’m not going to fly you tomorrow, but you’ll be back up on Tuesday.’ ”
Newall received the Purple Heart later that year and continued to serve.
He said his last Air Force flight was in 1970. In all, he served seven years, receiving numerous medals and citations.
The approximately 20-year war in Vietnam lasted until 1975. More than 58,000 U.S. servicemen and women were estimated to have died, 395 from New Mexico, according to the National Archives. More than 150,000 U.S. soldiers were wounded, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Military service is part of Newall’s family history.
His father-in-law received a Purple Heart during World War II, when he served at Pearl Harbor. His uncle was given the award after serving in the 10th Mountain Division in Italy in the same conflict.
And, Newall said, his greatgreat-grandfather had been George Washington’s first major general in the Revolutionary War.
“So, from a military point of view … I feel a deep connection with the whole process,” he said.
Newall said Saturday’s event was important not only to remember Purple Heart recipients’ service and sacrifices, but to acknowledge there is still support for veterans.
“We have a responsibility to work with our current veterans and past veterans,” Newall said.
“Yes, we have the award,” he added, “and it gives us special benefits that other people don’t get, but we left our friends back there. And so, I look at it this way, that the award is a recognition of what occurred to me, but it’s my obligation to give back to others.”