GALLUP, N.M. (KRQE) – On each end of the New Mexico town of Gallup, is a large multi-colored billboard reading in part, Gallup, N.M., “Most Patriotic Small Town in America”.
Gallup earned the honor a couple of years ago when Rand McNally was sponsoring its annual Best of the Road contest for ‘most’ beautiful, patriotic, fun, friendly and other worthy traits.
The man behind Gallup’s quest to win was Air Force veteran and manager of the local Comfort Suites, Ken Riege.
“And it was you know, just a great achievement for our community,” he said.
Riege spent months enlisting the help of other civic-minded Gallup folks and conducting the letter writing campaign — gathering the documentation for the application.
He is one of Gallup’s most patriotic citizens himself.
As manager of the local Comfort Suites, Ken created a veteran’s museum in the hotel lobby. There are uniforms, field gear, models of historic ships bearing the name ‘New Mexico’ and lots of photos, flags and dog tags.
“A lot of the displays that we have here at the Comfort Suites, they’ve been donated to us by other guests who have stayed here,” said Riege.
He said some guests who are veterans have told him they find the displays contribute to their healing.
Ken spends a lot of his time helping fellow veterans like 92-year old Gallup native, Hiroshi Miyamura, a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
He fought scores of Chinese troops, killing many in hand-to-hand combat while covering the retreat of his men during a fierce battle in the Korean War.
Ken often drives Miyamura to appointments and accompanies him on trips across the country to help out.
Miyamura likes to speak to young people about how and why to be a good, engaged citizen.
“I felt it’s so important that we educate them to where they would become patriotic and citizens that will contribute to the welfare of our country,” he said.
Another Gallup area veteran who likes to drop into the hotel for a good cup of coffee is 91-year-old Navajo Code Talker Roy Hawthorne. He and Ken sometimes visit about the call to duty they all felt as younger men.
Hawthorne reflects on when so many Navajo families sent their sons and fathers off to World War Two.
“Many of them were casualties of the war, but we were glad to do it,” he said.
Riege hopes more private citizens look for an opportunity to help veterans they may meet who are in need. Sometimes it’s just providing a sympathetic ear, offering a ride to the store or helping with some yard work.
“Offer that assistance,” he said.
“You’re going to make a lifelong friend, that’s for sure.”