Remembering New Mexico’s 91 lost

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A steady hum of “God Bless America” could be heard from Main Street in Belen as a group gathered Tuesday to honor those who died in America’s post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Belen JROTC Lt. Cmdr. Lacy Mitchell bows his head during the 9/11 Memorial Park ceremony on Tuesday in Belen.

It has been 11 years since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Residents who attended shuffled in and out of the rain and the opening ceremony was moved to the gazebo at Heart of Belen to keep people dry.

Bells rang out in honor of the local men and women who lost their lives overseas and, later, a procession of motorcyclists from American Legion Riders led the crowd on their bikes to the 9/11 Memorial Park at nightfall.

The theme of this year’s commemoration focuses on the 91 local men and one woman who’ve died in those wars.

All were either from New Mexico or had close ties to the Land of Enchantment.

“I have lost a lot of friends (that day),” said Archie Koenemund, one of the first responders to the World Trade Center the day two planes brought the Twin Towers down. “I have lost a lot of friends since.”

Koenemund, a Bosque Farms resident, was a deputy chief fire inspector for the New York City Fire Department. He said the 9/11 ceremonies help with the healing process.

One of those lost was his brother, Kevin, who was a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department. He said he is grateful to the organizers of this year’s event.

He said he once had a hatred toward Middle Easterners — something he has come to terms with since 2009 — for the loss of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks.

In 2001 terrorists attacked the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and the field in southwestern Pennsylvania where 40 passengers and crew members died while valiantly resisting the takeover of United Airlines flight 93.

Valencia County Interim Fire Chief Steven Gonzales said the gratitude continues to grow with each passing year. He said he has met more and more people who were in New York on that tragic day.

Wayne Gallegos was the Belen Fire Chief in September 2001.

He said the events of 9/11 won’t be blocked out as long as one individual continues to remember.

“As long as there is one advocate, it will never be forgotten,” Gallegos said.

U.S. Army veteran Arnold Conejo said it was important for him to pay tribute to those who lost their lives.

“It would be an insult not to come,” Conejo said. “These people paid the ultimate sacrifice.”


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.