Cochiti Pueblo governor receives replacements for lost Vietnam-era medals

Dr. Joseph Suina, a former Cochiti Pueblo Gov., U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Vietnam veteran, was honored last week at a ceremony held at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial in Albuquerque. The office of U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich presented Dr. Suina with the service medals he earned through his dedicated service.

Heinrich took the opportunity to address Suina’s military service in the Vietnam War and his extensive contributions to Cochiti Pueblo, as well as his role as a professor at the University of New Mexico’s College of Education and director of the Institute for American Indian Education.

Heinrich played a crucial role in recovering Suina’s replacement service medals, which he had earned during his time in the Marines in the 1960s. Unfortunately, these medals were lost when his house was burglarized in the 1970s. Among the medals was the prestigious Purple Heart, an honor bestowed upon U.S. military personnel who have been wounded or killed as a result of enemy action.

Heinrich’s office emphasizes the significance of military medals in honoring and acknowledging the service, achievements, and bravery of service members and veterans. However, they acknowledge that the procedure for replacing lost or stolen medals can be needlessly bureaucratic and time-consuming. To address this issue, Heinrich has implemented the Medal Retrieval Assistance program, which aims to assist New Mexico veterans like Suina and their family members in navigating and expediting the medal replacement process.

Senator Heinrich expressed his deep admiration for Dr. Suina, acknowledging his significant contributions to Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, and the entire nation. In addition to his service to the Pueblo, Senator Heinrich highlighted Dr. Suina’s remarkable military career as a Marine. Shortly after graduating from high school, Dr. Suina selflessly enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in the early 1960s. He bravely served two tours of duty in Vietnam, during which he was wounded, earning him the prestigious Purple Heart on March 22, 1966. With great honor, Dr. Suina received an honorable discharge as a sergeant. Tomorrow, at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial in Albuquerque, Dr. Suina’s loved ones will gather to commemorate his service to the nation. Senator Heinrich expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to assist in retrieving Dr. Suina’s well-deserved Marine medals, which will be presented during the gathering.

Suina received several prestigious awards for his outstanding work, including the following:

    • Combat Action Ribbon
    • Marine Corps Good Combat Medal
    • National Defense Service Medal
    • Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
    • Vietnam Service Medal
    • Rifle Sharpshooters Badge
    • Pistol Expert Badge.

“I had the great privilege of assisting in the retrieval of these medals, which serve as a testament to Dr. Suina’s extraordinary bravery and sacrifices,” expressed Heinrich. He further commended Dr. Suina for his efforts to shed light on the often unnoticed physical and psychological scars endured by veterans with PTSD. Over the years, Dr. Suina has shared his own experiences as well as those of his fellow Vietnam veterans and the veterans of his father’s generation who fought in World War II. Many of these individuals returned home carrying unseen wounds that were not acknowledged. It is truly admirable that Dr. Suina is dedicated to acknowledging and healing these wounds, both in himself and in his fellow veterans. On behalf of countless New Mexicans and Americans, I want to express our profound gratitude for Dr. Suina’s lifelong courage and service.”

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