While a tour of duty may come to an end, a veteran’s service to their countryis never fully completed, and one Taos Pueblo vet is ensuring that no one from his home is forgotten.
For several years, Vietnam veteran John Romero has taken on a task most people would look at as a mountain of a goal. Veterans associations across the state and country pay respects and give honors to vets of many backgrounds and ensure that no one is forgotten or left unmentioned, save for Romero’s brothers and sisters in arms at Taos Pueblo.
Feeling vets from the Pueblo are underrepresented for their services to the country, Romero began climbing his mountain one step at a time and began searching for the perfect way to honor those veterans – past, present and future.
“All these years, we’ve had so many veterans from the Pueblo and some of them are already gone,” he said.
“There was never anything to honor our veterans. So we decided that maybe we should start working on a resolution to present to tribal council.”
Romero began working with other veterans and community members on the adoption of a Pueblo veterans memorial to honor those who had served in the past, along with those in the present and future. The project, according to Romero, was unanimously approved by the tribal council and he immediately began searching for funding by writing letters and sending packets to congressional delegations, as well as then-President Barack Obama. Romero said the response was always the same: There was just no money.
Refusing to give up and after searching high and low for some bits of funding for a project, Romero decided to look locally within the state to get the money for the project. By contacting Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, Romero finally got the funding and support needed to begin the journey. After drafting several letters to a number of state and local agencies, Romero was granted $85,000 by the state to go ahead with the monument. Now, he needed a permanent place to build the monument.
Romero wanted the monument in a place where it would be seen by as many people as possible and become a destination like so many other veterans memorials. After much searching and several headaches along the way, Romero and tribal leaders decided the monument would be placed on Taos Pueblo’s Veterans Highway.
“I want the memorial there because I want our community and all our visitors to come to it, and people will realize that Taos Pueblo had all these veterans,” Romero said.
Cataloging the names that would be included on the monument was no easy task and proved to Romero to be just as challenging as getting together the funding and location settled. Research through several historical documents brought Romero and his wife, Paulita, to some astonishing finds as they compiled more than 300 names of people from Taos Pueblo who have served in the United States armed forces, including Pueblo members who had fought as far back as the Civil War.
After all the careful planning and years of work, Romero hopes to officially dedicate and showcase the statue on Nov. 11 as a special dedication for Veterans Day. “He’s done a lot, and he’s not going to sit there and tell you all the stuff he’s done,” said Paulita Romero. “He’s just a very special man.”
On his journey to helping his fellow vets, Romero has one group he says he owes special thanks to – his family.
Families of veterans are the service men and women who often go unrecognized when talking about vets and their dedication to their country. While soldiers are overseas or deployed elsewhere, families hold down the home front and await the return of their loved ones. After enduring two tours of duty in Vietnam, Romero said he knew the emotional toll his absence put on his parents and understands the fear that countless other mothers, fathers and wives go through while their soldiers are away.
In addition, coming home from a war takes a toll on a person that could last a lifetime for veterans. The effects of post-traumatic stress disorder weigh heavy in many households of soldiers who have returned from combat. Families, as well as veterans, have to learn to deal with the disorder.
“A lot of our veterans, especially our combat veterans, we all suffer from PTSD. We’re not the same person day in and day out like a regular person,” said Romero. “We have our problems, our nightmares, flashbacks and sleepless nights and we put our families through a lot. My wife, I don’t know how she puts up with that. She’s been really supportive. I have a very good family support system. Whatever I’m doing, they’re right there backing me up.”
Through the years, Romero said his wife has been by his side and supported him through some of the rough patches he has run into in the past.
Working with vets can become a lifelong journey, and that is exactly what Romero has dedicated his time to. His current work includes looking for funding for a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs liaison specifically for Pueblo members. Recently, Romero was the driving force behind the acquisition of a new transport vehicle for vets in the area, giving them the ability to have a collective vehicle to make it to either doctor’s appointments or special events in the area. The vehicle was donated to Pueblo veterans and was done so through Romero’s work and dedication.
“It’s just something I do from the bottom of my heart,” said Romero. “That’s the least I feel that I can do for veterans, is to help them in one way or another.”