Frank Muiz is the Vietnam War veteran behind the effort to build it
By cvlopez | firstname.lastname@example.org
WHEN Frank Muniz is telling stories about his experiences during the Vietnam War, there is a vividness to his memories that causes great emotion both to him and to the person listening.
He tells the story of being on a “search and destroy” mission when he encountered a woman holding her child, and deciding at that point to turn around and move on without engaging her, to hell with “search and destroy.”
And the story of the soldier who he helped load onto a helicopter when his battalion initially engaged in The Battle of Ia Drang Valley, the first major combat between U.S. ground forces and the North Vietnamese Army. “There were several guys carrying him and he had been burned by napalm,” Muniz says. “All of his clothes had been burned off, and his skin was curled over, but he was breathing hard and we took him to the chopper and was loading him on, and I noticed that the platform of the chopper was full of blood and was even dripping off the sides, I suspect from carrying wounded and dead servicemen out of the area.”
As he presents these intense recollections his voice halts at times, his eyes moisten, and he has to pause. He then continues with stories from his Vietnam experience, and particularly from The Battle of the la Drang Valley, which saw 305 American soldiers and an estimated 2,000 North Vietnamese killed during intense fighting that took place from Nov. 14 to Nov. 18, 1965.
“You know some things are not meant to be forgotten, and I think these are some of the things you don’t forget,” he says.
Muniz is recently retired as the Veteran’s Service Officer for Alamosa County, a position he held for 19 years. He is credited with getting programs started in Alamosa County that help with transportation for veterans, assistance for homeless veterans, helping veterans with court cases, among other efforts.
Two current projects give him the motivation to continue on with his work to honor veterans: In the coming week he will host a group of 30 or so Vietnam veterans who fought with him in the Battle of the la Drang Valley at a reunion that will be held at the National Guard Armory in Alamosa. The off-and-on reunions of the group over the past several decades is one passion of his and he’s pleased the upcoming reunion is being held in Alamosa.
The second project that has his full attention is the effort to create an Alamosa Veterans Memorial Park at the Alamosa County headquarters off Highway 285 to honor all the veterans of war in Alamosa and the San Luis Valley. Muniz is leading a committee that is spearheading the Alamosa Veterans Memorial Park Project. The committee includes Mike and Janet Yohn, Cindy Bervig, Helen Sigmond, Brenda Felmlee, and James Owens, who oversees the Veterans Affairs office at Adams State.
The group needs to raise an estimated $400,000 to put in place a bronze statue that would be 90 feet in diameter and 9 feet tall. It would be installed on property provided by Alamosa County, and the committee would like to add a walking trail for county employees.
Muniz helped design the statue, and Huberto Maestas, the famed bronze sculptor from San Luis, created a model
and would cast the life-size version once enough is raised. Muniz and the committee have formed a non-profit and recently filed with the IRS to receive 501(c)3 status so people can receive a tax deduction for monetary contributions they make to the project.
Raising $400,000 to erect the statue won’t be easy, but then again, Muniz has never taken the easy road.
ALAMOSA VETERANS MEMORIAL PARK PROJECT
The committee working to raise $400,000 to support the project is accepting donations. For information on how to donate or to get involved, contact Janet Yohn at 719-588-0484. The committee maintains a Facebook page: search “Alamosa Veterans Memorial Park Project” to find the page and stay up to date on the project.
The San Luis Valley has an estimated 4,800 veterans, about 10 percent of the Valley’s population.
Vietnam’s Helicopter War
He was drafted into the Army at age 22 while living in metro-Denver. He completed his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, MO., transferred to Fort Benning and got trained for the “Helicopter War,” where the U.S. Army used helicopters for the first time to provide mobility in the war zone, facilitating rapid troop transport, close air support, medical evacuation, search and rescue capabilities, among other uses.
“We were the guinea pigs for the helicopter concept,” Muniz says of his training at Fort Benning. “We tested it, flew it all over the place – the Carolinas, Florida – testing this concept.”
Muniz saw combat in Vietnam during Operation Silver Bayonet in October of 1965. “We didn’t get a lot of action there,” he said, but soon his brigade would find themselves involved in one of Vietnam’s most iconic fights, The Battle of Ia Drang Valley.
Muniz recalls that his brigade got to Drang Valley on Nov. 15, as heavy fighting was occurring. “On the 16th, the Vietnamese were about to overrun everybody,” Muniz said, and that’s when the call signal “Broken Arrow” was given, which meant that an American unit was about to be overrun and every available unit was ordered to their aid.
“When we got there, they split us up. We went around a hill to try to provide defense so they could rescue the lost platoon, and we did. We encountered some sniper fire, but when they recovered that lost platoon, there were only 8 guys left (in a platoon of about 25).”
Muniz returned to Denver following his stint in Vietnam, glad to be out and to have survived.
“I can’t compare it to anything,” he says. “Those tragedies, the way the men that were killed died a dirty, filthy death. You can’t imagine.”
He eventually was hired by the U.S. Postal Service, where he was employed for 30 years at the Denver General Mail Facility. Tired of the hustle and bustle of the city, he and his wife moved to Alamosa to retire and he then applied to be the veteran’s service officer for Alamosa County.
“We just came for an easier life.”
Once in Alamosa, he turned his attention to serving veterans through the Alamosa County veterans office. He said the office wasn’t doing a whole lot when he took over, so he began writing grants and funding programs to support veterans in Alamosa and the San Luis Valley.
“I gotta say that the (Alamosa County) commissioners always cooperated with me,” Muniz says of his time as Alamosa veteran’s service officer. “They were always good to me.”
When Alamosa County began moving its operations south and started building its campus off Highway 285, Muniz saw it as the perfect time to plan for a veterans memorial. The county commissioners agreed and provided space, and now the committee is focused on raising the money to get it built.
“We just came for an easier life,” Muniz says of the initial motivation to move to Alamosa.
The life he found was one that serves veterans. What a fitting tribute it would be to get the money raised and the Alamosa Veterans Memorial Park completed.
Vietnam War veteran Frank Muniz will take other veterans who he served with in Vietnam to the Soldierstone Memorial in the Rio Grande National Forest above Saguache as part of their reunion activities. Muniz says the memorial recognizes soldiers from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, France, and other countries who fought alongside the U.S. during the Vietnam war. The memorial is built like an outpost he experienced in Vietnam, with 36 stones inscribed with quotes in different languages. Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Allen Beckley received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to create the Soldier Stone Memorial in the Rio Grande National Forest.