Memorial Day: World War II theme to highlight program

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By Carol A. Clark

Monday’s Memorial Day program at Guaje Pines will feature Ferenc (Frank) Morton Szasz speaking on the theme of New Mexico during the era of the second World War.

“It’s very important to honor all of the men and women who served our country and this year we want to especially honor our WWII veterans,” said Jim Rubin, program coordinator and member of the local Elks Lodge, adding that the public is invited to attend the annual event.

Szasz was born in Davenport, Iowa, and grew up in Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, in 1962 and received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Rochester, N.Y., in 1969.

Szasz arrived as the University of New Mexico in 1967 and has been a member of the Department of History there ever since. He currently holds the rank of Regents’ Professor of History. His wife, Margaret Connell Szasz, specializes in Native American and Celtic history and also is a member of the UNM History Department.

“Together, the Szaszes rank as perhaps the longest-serving, same-department, history couple in the nation,” Rubin said.

Szasz became interested in the story of Los Alamos and by the late 1970s began to interview people who had been involved with the Manhattan Project, many of whom had returned to the state after distinguished careers elsewhere.

“One interview led to another and he soon became captivated by the story of the early years of Atomic America,” Rubin said.

From this research, Szasz eventually published two books: “The Day The Sun Rose Twice: The Story of the Trinity Site Nuclear Explosion, July 16, 1945” (1984) and “British Scientists and the Manhattan Project: the Los Alamos Years” (1992).

His latest book, “Larger Than Life: New Mexico in the Twentieth Century” (2006) – a collection of essays on a variety of themes – contains a section on Atomic New Mexico. One chapter here discusses the not-well-known underground nuclear detonations at Gnome, near Carlsbad (1961) and at Gasbuggy, near Farmington (1967), all part of President Dwight Eisenhower’s Plowshare Program.

Another of his essays analyzes the key roles that Norris Bradbury and Leslie R. Groves played in making Los Alamos a permanent federal laboratory.

Szasz is currently working on a book concerning atomic popular culture in the 20th century.

The Master of Ceremonies for Monday’s Memorial Day program is Exalted Ruler Michael Phillips of the BPOE Lodge 2083. The program will include the Presentation of Colors by the Los Alamos High School NJROTC Color Guard. The Albuquerque & Four Corners Pipes & Drums is set to perform.

There will be an opening rifle salute conducted by SOC and LAHS NJROTC personnel.

Capt. Steve Maestas and SOC Honor Guard will participate in the ceremony, which will include the Pledge of Allegiance led by Sam Menefee of Cub Scout Pack 27 and Maia Menefee of Girl Scout Troop 97.

Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-N.M., Los Alamos, Sandoval and Santa Fe counties will present the State of New Mexico Proclamation. Los Alamos County Council Vice Chair Robert Gibson will present the Los Alamos County Proclamation.

Pastor Tom Kearns of Los Alamos New Beginnings Fellowship Assembly of God Church will give the invocation.

Ashley Cordell will lead the crowd in singing the National Anthem accompanied by Pat Reich on keyboard. A poem composed by Gayla Grimm-Fogle, “Lest We Forget,” will be read by Mary Tucker.

The Placing of Wreaths will be conducted by VFW Post 8874, AL Post 90, BPOE 2083, DAR, KofC 3137, MOWW, SOC.PTLA, LAHS JROTC and Shriner/Masons.

Taps will be performed by Alex Austell of the LAHS All-State Marching Band. The Albuquerque & Four Corners Pipes & Drums will perform Amazing Grace.

Pastor Dave Ring of Los Alamos First United Methodist Church will recite the benediction.

“A special fly-over of the New Mexico National Air National Guard 150th Fighter Wing known as ‘The Tacos’ will take place during the ceremony,” Rubin said.

Monday's program begins at 10:30 a.m. with the  flyover expected at 11:05 a.m. and lunch to follow at noon at the Elks Lodge on Trinity Drive. The public is invited to attend.