Socorro remembers its war heros

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He is known for being the first county resident from Socorro to die in the Vietnam War. That distinction earned Isidro Baca the honor of having a park near Socorro’s Plaza named after him.

The centerpiece of the park is a monument, dedicated on Veterans Day 1967, which bears his name and those of other local soldiers who died fighting for their country. The honor roll also lists the names of Willie Lee and Florentino Tafoya Jr., who, like Baca, were U.S. Marines, and Army soldiers Donald R. Alexander, George Eloy Tafoya and John V. Tafoya.

In recent years, the city of Socorro and Socorro County collaborated to renovate the park. Now, the park has been completely renovated to add monuments to recognize all branches of the military and all veterans, past and present.

The materials for the initial renovations were purchased by the county, and city crews provided the labor. The county conducted the demolition using volunteer inmates for labor, and city crews installed water lines, poured concrete for curbing and planted the new trees in the park. The cannon at the north end has been refurbished and a military themed playground has replaced outdated equipment.

Volunteer groups have also pitched in to make the park honoring war veterans an attractive place near the center of the city.

Determined and Dedicated

Behind the park and memorial there’s the story of one courageous man.

Isidro Baca was born to Benny and Josie Baca on Oct. 7, 1947. Ann Baca remembers her older brother, also known as “Issy,” as being dedicated, ambitious and a goal setter.

“He was a great brother,” Ann said. “Unfortunately, he was killed when I was 14.”

Isidro attended school at Mount Carmel, and graduated from Socorro High School in 1965. Ann said her brother worked at the hospital after high school, but he knew he wanted “to be a man,” so he joined the U.S. Marines.

“He was very determined in what he wanted,” Ann said. “There was no changing his mind when he wanted to do something.”

Isidro Baca was only 19 when he died on Aug. 21, 1967. Baca served in the Marines Corps as PFC (private first class) and joined the war in 1966. He fought for six months before his life was taken in an ambush, Ann said.

Ann Baca described her brother as the typical older brother. They were five years apart by one day and always celebrated their birthdays together.

Her favorite memory of her brothers was when their parents bought a hi-fi stereo and they sat together and listened to music. He loved listening to The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five.

Isidro was very close to his family and was named after his grandfather. When a representative of the Marine Corps and a priest came to the door to break the news of Isidro’s death, his mom knew what happened to her son. When his memorial was dedicated, it made Ann and her parents proud that the whole town of Socorro came to honor him.

In Remembrance

For the first time in several years, Memorial Day ceremonies were not held at Isidro Baca Park this year.

Peter Romero, a Socorro city councilor and active member of the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans, which organized Memorial Day activities, said ceremonies were moved to the cemeteries this year, perhaps a more appropriate location to honor the dead. Veterans Day events will continue to be held at the park.

On Monday, Memorial Day, ceremonies were held at both the San Miguel Cemetery and Socorro Cemetery in the morning. Father Andy Pavlak of San Miguel Mission led a mass at the Catholic cemetery. Romero led ceremonies at the city cemetery. The DAV honor guard was present for both events, playing taps and firing off a 21-gun salute.

Afterward, the DAV hosted a lunch at its chapter building, offering hot dogs, bratwurst, hamburgers, potato salad, watermelon and cake to all comers.

While many folks in Socorro spent the day with family, cooking out or going to the lake, others took the time to remember. They remembered men like Isidro Baca — and all the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us can enjoy our freedoms.

El Defensor Chieftain General Manager T.S. Last contributed to this story.