The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire
War, Remembrance, and an American Tragedy
Winner: Southwest Book Award
A great white angel spreading her wings across the Moreno Valley: this is how one visitor described the memorial standing atop a windswept prominence in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Taos, New Mexico. A de-facto national Vietnam veterans memorial, built by one family more than a decade before the Wall in Washington, DC, and without aid or recognition from the US government, the chapel at Angel Fire is a testament to one young American’s sacrifice—but also to the profound determination of his family to find meaning in their loss. In The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, Steven Trout tells the story of Marine Lieutenant David Westphall, who was killed near Con Thien on May 22, 1968, and of the Westphall family’s subsequent struggle to create and maintain a one-of-a-kind memorial chapel dedicated to the memory of all Americans lost in the Vietnam War and to the cause of world peace.
“The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire: War, Remembrance, and an American Tragedy is an engaging narrative on the fascinating story of the creation of an essential memorial that set the stage for the national one in Washington, DC. Steven Trout’s extensive research and lively storytelling on this significant topic contributes meaningfully to our understanding of the Vietnam War and its role in our national memory. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire is a dramatic human interest story, well told, and highly recommended.”
—Kyle Longley, author of The Morenci Marines: A Tale of Small Town America and the Vietnam War
“Combining biography, history, and memory, Steven Trout has given us an insightful and clear-eyed view of the first national Vietnam veterans memorial and the family that constructed it. Along the way he skillfully assesses the complex, conflicting, and evolving meanings of an idiosyncratic site of remembrance that was intended to honor both military service and the quest for peace.”
—Christian G. Appy, author of American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity
“Anyone who cares about the Vietnam War and American history and memory will wish to read Steven Trout’s The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire. In clear, powerful, compassionate prose Trout chronicles the genesis and subsequent history of this remarkable project in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico, begun while the war still raged in 1970 by Victor and Jeanne Westfall to honor the memory of their son David, a US Marine rifle platoon leader killed in Vietnam. Far in advance of the eventual completion of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC, the memorial at Angel Fire acquired a prominent set of outside participants, including future US senator John Kerry representing the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the distinguished Vietnam War journalist Gloria Emerson, author of Winners and Losers. The Angel Fire Memorial still exists today, begun by family, friends, and neighbors and still memorable nationally for the many brave years of its early service as the first and only Vietnam War memorial in the United States.”
—Philip Beidler, professor emeritus of American literature, University of AlabamaSee fewer reviews...
Focused primarily on a life lost amid our nation’s most controversial conflict and on the Westphalls’ desperate battle to keep their chapel open between 1971 and 1982, the book’s brisk and moving narrative traces the memorial’s evolution from a personal act of family remembrance to its emergence as an iconic pilgrimage destination for thousands of Vietnam veterans. Documenting the chapel’s shifting messages over time, which include a momentary (and controversial) recognition of the dead on both sides of the war, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire spotlights one American soldier’s tragic story and the monument to hope and peace that it inspired.