A family’s blessed event turns tragic

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Under a cloudless sky on Feb. 12, 1947, a wedding was held at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Tomé.
The pastor, Father Joseph Assenmacher, a German priest, presided over the wedding of Chris Romero to Max Sanchez. Among those in attendance was a soldier dressed in the uniform of the United States Army — David Romero, brother to the bride, Chris. He was on furlough from the armed services to attend her wedding. He was 19 years old.

Submitted photo: David Romero, who returned home from the military for his sister’s funeral, died in a tragic accident.

One wonders what Assenmacher’s thoughts were as he saw the uniformed soldier for he too had been a soldier, a German soldier, but in World War I.  Today in the church museum in Tomé there exists a picture of Assenmacher as he appeared in his combat uniform holding a Mauser, a powerful single-action rifle that was the main German infantry rifle during World War I.
After the end of World War I, he was ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church. He eventually migrated to the United States. He was assigned to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, serving as pastor in Isleta and in Tomé. During World War II, he suffered conflicting thoughts about his adopted country, the United States of America, which was at war with his native country, Germany.
A venerable man, he quite often expressed his thoughts on the evils of war and how he wished and prayed for the end of the war. Yet here he was in little Tomé in his priestly habit. People were impressed by his pious demeanor, and self-sacrifice of sleeping on a hard bench in an adobe hut and not in the priest’s house.
Also at this particular moment , during the wedding, he did not know that in two days he would be presiding over the funeral of David Romero.
During the wedding ceremony, it was customary for the bride to present her flowers to the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mother, which Chris did. And she and the bride groom knelt before the Sacred Heart and other saints in silent prayers, besieging them for their blessings in their new marriage.
After the wedding Mass, the wedding party was standing outside in the bright, warm sunshine in a receiving line. Many people came to extend their congratulations and offered their best wishes to the newly married couple.
As they stood outside, it was curious that although it was a warm day, David turned to one of his relatives and mentioned that he felt a cold shiver. It was as if a cold wind blew over him.
David was inexplicably cold. He was perplexed and frowned but he quickly recovered. He thought that it was the excitement of the wedding and the fact that he was driving a beautiful 1940 Buick. The wedding party quickly got into their cars and they drove south to the bride’s parents’ house, which was located in La Costancia, a small, rural and hilly area south of Tomé and north of Belen. This area along N.M. 47 is still referred to as La Costancia.
Several cars followed in a caravan. All of the drivers were honking their cars. It was a tradition that when someone got married, they were honored by madly honking their car horns as they escorted the bride and bride-groom around the neighborhood.
They arrived at the parents’ house. There was much laughter and talk. They participated in a large luncheon, where neighbors, friends and relatives were invited.
It is not clear who invited David to go joy riding, but the groom and his cousin, Everisto, decided to go. They drove north along the unpaved road. The tires of the car crunched on the gravel of the unpaved highway.
They stopped to visit at the Adelino Elementary School, where David was surrounded by the children and his former teachers. He visited with his favorite teacher, Mrs. Sachs Baca, who had been his first-grade teacher.
He was a popular person. David played ball with some of the children. Many people thought that he was a handsome, charismatic person, who was tall and blue eyed. Lavraino Romero, his uncle, was almost 7-feet tall and there are some tall relatives who still live in the area.
After visiting at the school, David and his party drove south. They again arrived at his parents’ house, where they continued their celebration. Every one was in a celebratory mood, looking forward to the wedding dance that was to be held at Tabet’s Dance Hall in Belen later that evening. A live band had been booked for the evening.
David and Everisto decided to drive the five miles to Belen, stating that they would return in time for the dance. It was about four in the afternoon and there seemed to be a dramatic cooling down in the weather.
David unexpectedly again felt a shiver come over his body. Was this a premonition of things to come? David looked to the west and saw the last slash of red above the mesa to the west. The water of the Rio Grande shined brightly through the bare cottonwood trees at the edge of the river.
The young men got into the car. They were carelessly speeding over the rolling hills. These hills still make up N.M. 47 between La Costancia and the river bridge. This area was part of the Tomé Land Grant, established in 1739 by the Spanish Crown who deeded the land to the original Spanish settlers who made a living from this land by grazing their cattle, hunting and gathering timber. Historically, the area later belonged to Mexico, who then ceded it to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
And of course these original inhabitants became American citizens after the United States conquered Mexico and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed.
As David and his friends drove along, they met a slow-moving car that was driving in the same direction. David attempted to drive around the car. When they topped the hill, called La Suvida, they tragically met a car driven by a man from Casa Colorada traveling north and thus there was a terrific head-on collision.
Many people gathered at the scene of the crash. It was almost Valentine’s Day. It was also Chris’ wedding day. David was seriously hurt and he was transferred to a hospital in Albuquerque. Two days later, on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, he died from his injuries. He was buried in the Tomé cemetery with Father Assenmacher officiating. The whole community was in mourning.
Presently, Chris lives in Belen. She is a mother and grandmother of several children.
Assenmacher retired from the priesthood and moved backed to Germany. He lived with his two sisters in the city of Cologne.
Mr. and Mrs. Adelino Sanchez, the former superintendent of the Belen schools, visited him in Germany and they said he expressed to them his love for Tomé and its people.
“Father Jose,” as he was called, died on Dec. 10, 1966.


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