Documentary details valiant effort to create Hobbs Veterans Memorial Park
The newly created Hobbs Veterans Memorial Park had been seriously discussed for decades and started or stopped several times. But with help from a Herculean effort by the community, the memorial enjoyed a rousing grand opening just in time for Memorial Day this year.
The project’s completion was a collective sigh of relief for members of the Hobbs community. The challenges and efforts that went into building the $1.8 million park, which was almost derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and related cost increases, are detailed in a recently-released documentary.
The memorial exists on land that was formerly part of Hobbs Army Airfield, which was decommissioned in 1948, according to the city. Numerous pieces at the site recognize the history, including remnants of airfield buildings found throughout the surrounding golf course.
After years of stalled discussions about creating a lasting memorial at the site, Hobbs Commissioner and Army Veteran Christopher Mills met for lunch with fellow Commissioner and Army Veteran Dwayne Penick.
“[Dwayne] said, you know, the problem with these memorials is we’ve never just had a plan, looked at it, and just said, ‘Let’s do this,'” Mills said.
That was on a Friday. Penick returned the following Monday with a big sheet of paper with plans that resemble what you see at Hobbs Veterans Memorial Park today.
“He spent the whole weekend drawing the memorial, which is exactly what we built,” Mills said.
A key piece of the project, of course, is the F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber displayed at the memorial site. Now a sterling reminder of military aviation history, the plane wasn’t in the best shape at its former location in Roswell.
Gordon Ponsford of Ponsford Ltd., which conserves and restores artifacts, including airplanes, described the F-105 Thunderchief as a battlefied training vehicle that had “about 70 holes in it.”
“They sent us a picture of it, and I thought it was closer to scrap metal than a restoration project,” Ponsford said.
Hobbs officials drove to Roswell to see the plane only a few days after learning about it, according to Mills.
“At the end we all thought, We can fix this. We can make this plane look brand new,” Mills said. “We didn’t know how. But we knew we could do it.”
Through the power of Facebook, the Hobbs team managed to find the pilot of the F-105, Colonol D.R. Bates, who appears in the documentary. Bates said the F-105 was reportedly developed for a special mission that was to carry a nuclear bomb from Western Europe, into Eastern Europe or into Russia.
“The sacrifices given by our veterans and their families can never be repaid, but memorials like this one will educate the generations to follow and encourage strong patriotism for all ages.”
“These airplanes are just so special,” Bates said. “They’re the largest and heaviest single engine fighter bomber ever built anywhere in the world.”
Bates lauds the plane’s beautiful restoration. At the grand opening in May, he expressed elation that the plane would outlast him.
The documentary also contains impressive footage of the restored plane’s transport from Roswell to the park.
“We called Wilbanks Trucking and said heya, you guys move big stuff. We got something big that we need to move,” Mills said.
Josh Rice of Wilbanks Trucking Inc. didn’t hesitate to take on the project.
“He didn’t ask any questions, he said we’ll do it,” Mills said.
Aside from the physical challenges, the memorial faced financial hurdles. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the state and also spiked the project’s cost by $400,000. Mills credited Lea County Commissioner Sena for advocating to fill that funding gap with County funds.
“For a minute I was a little scared that it wasn’t going to happen,” Penick said.
Mills called the successful project a “team effort” and a fitting tribute to those who served our nation in the military.
“The sacrifices given by our veterans and their families can never be repaid, but memorials like this one will educate the generations to follow and encourage strong patriotism for all ages,” Penick said.
Added Army Veteran and City Manager Manny Gomez, “It is a place for our youth to learn the history of their nation, families to pay honor to our nation’s veterans, and veterans to be recognized and pay honor themselves.”
Member of the Hobbs Veterans Memorial Committee that worked to realize the project include Commissioners Penick and Mills; City Manager Gomez; Senior Center Director and Air Force Veteran Angela Courter; City General Services Director Shelia Baker; and Army Veteran Robert Lujan.
Veterans Memorial Park is located at 5120 W. Jack Gomez Blvd. The National Guard Armory is listed at 5002 W. Jack Gomez Blvd.4