ISLETA PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) — Two Isleta Pueblo members who served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War were presented Friday with military medals they earned but never received.
During a special ceremony at Isleta Pueblo, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall pinned the replacement medals to All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres and former Isleta Tribal councilman Diego Lujan.
Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, said he sought the replacements for the two veterans after he learned Torres did not have his discharge papers or his medals. Udall also found out Lujan never received five of his medals.
"It's a small gesture for your service," Udall told then men. "We are honored to share it with you."
Udall had made the discovery after his office conducted interviews as part of the Veterans History Project in conjunction with the Library of Congress.
Both men say they rarely thought about their missing medals until family members asked about them.
"I never pursued it," said Lujan, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1969 to 1972. "It wasn't until my grandson asked me if I had any medals from Vietnam. I began researching about it."
Torres, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 1972, also shrugged when asked about his medals. "I don't know. Just didn't think about it," Torres said.
Lujan said he's happy to be presented with the military decorations and believe attitudes about those who served during the Vietnam War are changing. "It was tough. We didn't have a say in how things were done," Lujan said. "We had a job and we just did it."
After receiving his honors, Torres told attendees that he was orphaned at 13 years old and moved from family to family before he was drafted to service. Upon his return, he used the G.I. to learn carpentry skills and began a construction company.
On Friday, four generations of his family came to the ceremony to witness him receiving his replacement medals. "This is what it's all about," he said.