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Veterans legacy project gets $500,000 in federal funds to expand

The Santa Fe New Mexican - 9/11/2022

Sep. 11—A Santa Fe-based program that honors the lives and legacies of New Mexico's deceased veterans has received a $500,000 grant, allowing the initiative to expand its reach.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration awarded the funds to Santa Fe Community College for its Veterans Legacy Program, in which students research the histories of veterans buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery and interview their surviving relatives and friends. The students write a short biography and create a video featuring each veteran they research, telling the veteran's story in both English and Spanish.

The new grant will help fund the creation of a K-12 instructional component to highlight New Mexico's military history and the people who have served. Stephen Martinez, a history teacher at the community college who is leading the program, said teachers across the state can choose to incorporate the curriculum into their classrooms.

Veterans, educators and administrators at the college announced the start of the program about a year ago, but the coronavirus pandemic and limited funding prevented it from taking full flight.

Students and others involved in the program have written close to 70 biographies for the project's website but have not yet started creating videos on each of the stories.

The $500,000 — available for use Oct. 1 — will help "expand the program, not just in terms of the participants, but in terms of the categories [of veterans' stories]," including tribal members and those in the LGBTQ community, said Ken Dettelbach, a Vietnam War veteran who helped spearhead the project.

Martinez said the grant also will allow students to "make sure more women veteran stories are told."

The funds will pay for investigators, researchers and educators to join the project, and allow participants to search other military cemeteries for veterans to feature and incorporate their art and literature into the storytelling process.

Martinez said he expects to have at least 10 students signed up for the project in the spring 2023 semester, and each will receive $15 per hour for their work.

Students involved in a range of programs at the college — such as history, digital arts and filmmaking — can take part in the program for college credit, Martinez said.

Among some of the biographies already prepared for the project's website — — are such disparate personalities as former New Mexico Gov. David Cargo (U.S. Army); World War I ambulance driver (and private pilot) Katherine Stinson (U.S. Army); and U.S. Army scout Y.B. Rowdy, a member of the Yavapai tribe who took part in Arizona-based campaigns against the Apaches and earned a Medal of Honor.

Santa Fe Community College student Jonah Crespin, who will graduate this coming December, took part in some of those biographical projects, including one on Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez As a Native American, Crespin said it is "important to recognize those who have served" and "acknowledge minorities of people who fought for this nation."

Martinez said he hopes to have at least 150 biographies on the website by the end of the spring semester, as well as a number of videos and graphic displays about the veterans.

Krystal Patton, a U.S. Navy veteran who oversees the Veterans Resource Center at Santa Fe Community College, said the program is a natural fit for veterans who attend the school.

"Some day we'll be up there," she said, indicating the Santa Fe National Cemetery. And then, she added, students might end up telling "our stories," too.


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