Veterans (from right) George Gabaldón, Toby Perez, Skip Aragón and Leonard Durán (in back) salute for the Pledge of Allegiance during their Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting in Bernalillo.
Photo Credit: Bill Diven
Comrades in arms reach out to expand VFW roster
When six members of the Bernalillo Veterans of Foreign Wars post met in December, Quartermaster and Adjutant Joe Gurulé went through the minutes of their previous meeting.
"'Reading of membership applications,'" he quoted. "'None.'"
And so it is most months for VFW Del Valle Arellanes Post 4243, named for two Bernalillo men who went to war and died overseas.
Private Augustine Del Valle survived the trenches of World War I unscathed only to die in France from pneumonia about two months after the war ended, according to records of the New Mexico Adjutant General. He was 26 and one of four stepchildren of Juan and Rosario Garcia y Romero of Bernalillo.
PFC Pedro S. Arellanes Jr., the son of Pedro and Josefa Arellanes, was killed in combat in 1944 six days before his 35th birthday, records show. He and Del Valle are both buried in the Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery in Bernalillo.
"I knew Pedro," World War II veteran and VFW member Toby Perez said. "He was killed in Europe."
Perez set out to be a paratrooper, expecting to be sent to the Pacific but instead found himself on guard duty and then dispatching trucks in Germany just after the war in Europe ended.
"I guess they got scared of me going over there, and they quit the war," he said. "I was on the ship going over there."
Also attending the meeting was George Gabaldón, a veteran of the Korean War who worked as a cook and driver, delivering meals near the 38th parallel. That line would later mark the truce that still divides the Korean peninsula into two countries.
Perez and Gabaldón have been friends since the 1940s and, at one time, worked together making truck trailers in Albuquerque.
"My dad and his dad were real good buddies," Gabaldón said, with Perez adding, "We used to go over to San Luis and thrash your wheat."
Fifteen veterans of the two world wars formed the Bernalillo post with their charter dated May 28, 1945—twenty days after Germany surrendered. The war in the Pacific would rage for another three months.
Members have met continuously ever since in their own building, at times at the Casa Blanca Bar, later in public buildings around town, and now in the Knights of Columbus building beside Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church.
Casa Blanca contributed to the post's peak membership topping 150 in the late 1960s, Post Commander Robert Montaño said. The bartender gets credit for much of that since he belonged to the VFW and urged any traveling veteran who stopped in to sign up.
"We had members from Ohio, from Florida, but in a few years they'd drop out or transfer to a post where they lived," said Montaño, a veteran to two infantry tours in Vietnam.
The shrinking membership now stands at 21, with veterans from World War II all the way through Iraq and Afghanistan. Among them are three generations of the Gurulé family: Joe, a Navy Seabee who served in Vietnam, his son Gerald, and his father Tony.
Statewide, the VFW Department of New Mexico, chartered in 1934, lists more than ten thousand members spread among 43 posts. The VFW’s mission is to foster camaraderie among veterans of overseas conflicts, while serving veterans and their families, their communities, and the military.
During the Bernalillo meeting, the post advanced planning for its major annual fundraising event by ordering one thousand Buddy Poppies. Those will be offered free to people at locations in Bernalillo in advance of Memorial Day in May with donations welcomed in return.
The Buddy Poppy, a small red flower of silk-like material on a wire stem, symbolizes the blood shed in World War I and the flowers that blossomed in the military cemeteries there. The VFW first offered them for Memorial Day in 1922. Local profits go into the post relief fund to benefit needy and disabled veterans and family members.
The Bernalillo post is actively seeking new members. Veterans of foreign conflicts can obtain information about the post and membership from Montaño at 771-0693 or Gurulé at 507-3090.