Stella Vigil Lavadie had 101 years worth of smiles on her face as the banner honoring her military service waved at motorists passing by the Santa Fe National Cemetery on Thursday.
Looking at the image of her younger self in uniform on a Hometown Heroes banner -- the first to go up in a new round of banner installations sponsored by the state -- the centenarian U.S. Women's Air Corps veteran said, "I never thought I would see something this beautiful."
It brought back memories -- of her father, Abel Vigil, who joined the U.S. Army during World War I, and of the United States calling her to serve in World War II. Those recollections made her smile, not cry, as those around her applauded her service and the banner.
Her work in American military supply units on various bases in the country during World War II "helped to release a man to go overseas and do his duty," she said.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham hung Lavadie's banner with the help of a bucket truck and its crew moments after talking before a small crowd about the state's plan to install more than 130 of the banners, which honor living and deceased military veterans from Santa Fe families.
The banners will be installed along St. Francis Drive, a state-maintained road, and along Guadalupe Street up to the cemetery.
Lujan Grisham said the stretch of state roads honoring the veterans will be known as Hero Highway.
"This is the right way to make it clear to visitors what we stand for," she said.
The banners had hung on street poles along Cerrillos Road between Airport Road and Interstate 25 for the past three years, but they were removed in June after reports the poles could not safely handle decorative banners in high winds.
The city has been attempting to find a home for the banners -- over 340 -- since then.
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber said the City Council will hold a special meeting Monday to discuss its plan to reinstate the rest of the banners to "get us back on track."
"We don't want to disrespect our veterans," Webber said.
City Councilor Michael Garcia said he hopes the city can display them along poles in the Railyard District and around the Plaza. But, he added, the city is open to other possibilities.
The banners include the names, faces, rank and years of service of each veteran. Traditionally, they are put up just before Memorial Day in late May and come down after Veterans Day in mid-November.
During Thursday's ceremony, Lavadie sat in a wheelchair holding a bouquet of red roses. She said she hopes all the banners go up to pay tribute to those who swore allegiance to the military and served to keep America safe and free.
Both her sons served in the U.S. Army, she said, as did her late husband, Sam Lavadie.
Stella Vigil Lavadie, born in Taos in 1921, earned a teaching certificate at New Mexico Highlands University, according to a 2010 New Mexican story.
She had taught in an elementary school for two years before World War II erupted.
After the war, she worked for Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Bureau of Land Management.
Asked to offer a few words before Lujan Grisham attached her banner to the pole, Lavadie garnered a collective laugh from the assembly when she said: "I can't explain how I feel -- that at 101; I'm alive here at the cemetery instead of being dead."
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