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National Vietnam War Veterans Day

The New Mexico Department of Veterans Services

Michelle Lujan Grisham

Governor

Sonya L. Smith

Cabinet Secretary

 Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today is National Vietnam War Veterans Day—the day our nation observes every year on March 29 to thank and honor our nation’s Vietnam War veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the Vietnam War occurred from November 1, 1955, to April 30, 1975. America initially served as military advisors to South Vietnam in its defense against communist-backed North Vietnam but began its military involvement in the Vietnam War in February 1961.

More than nine million Americans served in the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. Of this total, 2.7 million served in Southeast Asia, where more than 300,000 American service members were injured, and 58,318 killed in action—including 399 from New Mexico. More than 1,500 Americans are still listed as missing in action—including 12 from New Mexico. There are about six million Vietnam War-era veterans alive in America. About 600,000 are those that served in-theater.

Regardless of which side you fall on in the view of the Vietnam War, what’s important to remember is this: Those who served answered the call of duty when our country came calling for military service. Southeast Asia was on the verge of being overrun by Communist forces, and America’s leadership deemed it imperative to stop this spread. The dense, humid jungles of Vietnam and Southeast Asia were a kill-or-be-killed environment, one in which each of our service members were dependent on one another for survival. They served with bravery and a sense of duty for each other.

Unfortunately, we cannot erase the unwelcoming reception many of our returning service members received upon returning home from their service during the Vietnam War. Though time is still healing these wounds…time has also allowed us to view our Vietnam veterans as honorable men and women who, regardless of the political firestorm back here at home, had a job to do thousands of miles from home. They were soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guard members—patriots who swore upon enlisting or being drafted to serve to the best of their abilities. They followed orders and looked out for one another. On National Vietnam War Veterans Day, our country should always honor these brave men and women for this, and for their service for our country.

To New Mexico’s Vietnam War veterans…Welcome Home.

Sonya L. Smith

Cabinet Secretary,
New Mexico Department of Veterans Services
USAF/Gulf War Veteran

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Women’s History Month: Remembering Major Pauline Cushman

By Kathleen Larson

In recognition of Women’s History Month . . .

I often visit the San Francisco National Cemetery on the Presidio of San Francisco (where my parents are buried) and I always park some distance from my parents gravesite to allow myself an opportunity to walk slowly through different areas of this comparatively small national cemetery and read the tombstones of the fallen men and women buried there.

Which led me to the graves of two women, who were breveted as Army officers in the 19th Century.

It goes without saying that each of these women led complicated lives, which were sometimes very messy, and which probably would not have met your great-grandmother’s standard of what was “proper” behavior. But each of these women showed incredible courage in war in the service of their country. 

The first woman is Major Pauline Cushman, Union Spy:

Born Harriet Wood, she was raised with her seven brothers near a Native American Trading Post in Michigan. She was an accomplished outdoors woman, but her dream was to become an actress, and by the time she was 18 she had moved to New Orleans, and was working in the theater under the stage name of Pauline Cushman.

She married in 1853, and had two children. In 1862 her husband was discharged from the 41st Ohio Infantry due to severe illness and passed away winter of that year. Shortly after, Cushman relocated to Louisville, Kentucky to pursue acting again, leaving her children behind with family.

On April 1863, Pauline Cushman was performing in the play The Seven Sisters at a theater in Louisville when she was approached by two Confederate officers. They asked her to make a toast to the Confederacy during the performance, even offering her up to $350. Unsure, Cushman asked Colonel Orlando Hurley Moore, the U.S. Provost Marshal, in Louisville what to do. In response, he told her to accept the proposition and report back to his office the next day. That night, during her performance she boldly proposed a toast to Jefferson Davis president of the Confederate States (in the script, the toast was supposed to go to President Lincoln). Afterwards she was let go from the play but Moore officially offered her a job as a Union spy.

As a spy, Cushman used her acting skills to pose as a Confederate sympathizer in order to gain information. In the summer of 1863, she was assigned to gather intelligence in Nashville, Tennessee. Under the guise of “searching for a lost brother,” she gained access to Confederate camps in Tennessee and was able to ascertain the size of their forces, their supplies, and if they were building any fortifications. A Confederate soldier grew suspicious of her travels and stopped her. He discovered documents she had stolen from the Confederacy, arrested her, and took her to Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s headquarters where she was tried as a spy and sentenced to death by hanging.

Before the sentence could be carried out, she fell ill. Some accounts state she was “acting” ill, others assert she had typhoid fever. Either way, her perceived illness saved her life. Union forces captured the town of Shelbyville and the Confederates quickly retreated–leaving Cushman behind. Following her brush with death, her bravery and service to the Union was widely recognized. She received public attention and recognition from both General Garfield (the future U.S. President) and President Lincoln. Lincoln awarded her the honorary rank of Brevet Major for her heroic service as a spy

In 1879, Cushman married Jeremiah Fryer in Arizona. The couple ran a hotel for about ten years, but eventually separated in 1890 after the death of their daughter. Cushman returned to San Francisco shortly afterwards to try acting again. But her health began to decline and she died on December 1, 1893, in San Francisco at the age of 60. Though she was alone at the time, she was not forgotten. When the Grand Army Republic learned of her death they held a large funeral with military honors for her.

She is interred in the Officer’s Circle at the cemetery.