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To honor Larry Valdez, city found a Way

Wondering who Larry Valdez was? The late, decorated Vietnam veteran was honored by this street name in 2019. (Action Line)

Dear Action Line: Can you tell me anything about the Larry Valdez for whom Larry Valdez Way is named? It’s that short road that goes from East Eighth Avenue to Camino del Rio. Just curious. – For Name’s Sake

Dear Name’s Sake: Action Line feels like this should be an easy question to answer. Unfortunately, it isn’t. So let’s shine some light on Larry Valdez.

Larry (1947-2004) was a Durango native, growing up in the area then called Mexican Flats, or Santa Rita, located where Santa Rita Park sits today. A 1966 Durango High School graduate, he was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1967. And like many drafted around that time, he was trained and sent to Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia that many people felt at the time was key to stopping the spread of communism.

Larry Valdez Sr. (Courtesy of the Valdez family)

With some help from a former Durango mayor, Action Line connected with Valdez’s son, Larry Valdez Jr., to find out more.

From 1968-1970, Spc. Larry Valdez did his job honorably, fighting for his country, but more than that, coming to the rescue of his fellow soldiers. The Army awarded him a Silver Star for actions “while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force,” according to a letter signed by Army Col. Herman J. Miller Jr.

As Larry Valdez Jr. told Durango’s City Council during a March 19, 2019, meeting, Valdez Sr. and his platoon were transporting an armored vehicle to a position at Ben Luc Bridge when a superior force of Viet Cong soldiers opened fire from nearby brush. It was Nov. 27, 1968.

The letter reads: “The vehicle on which Specialist Valdez was riding was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade round, immobilizing it. Specialist Valdez immediately manned the machine gun and returned devastating fire upon the enemy.

Larry Valdez Sr. was buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. Pictured is Asher Valdez, the grandson of Larry Sr. and son of Larry Jr. (Courtesy of Larry Valdez Jr.)

“In spite of a withering hail of automatic weapons fire, (Valdez) relinquished the protection of the gun turret in order to open the hatch to permit the driver and squad leader to disembark. He then braved the intensive fire … and returned to the turret.”

Valdez continued to fire, and the Viet Cong retreated.

Valdez Sr. also earned three Bronze Star medals for “heroism in a combat zone or meritorious service in a war zone.” Valdez died in 2004, and was buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.

Former Mayor Sweetie Marbury was key in the renaming. She said that in September 2018 she was invited to speak at the local VFW’s Vietnam veterans ceremony, where several veterans told their stories. Larry Valdez Jr., who now lives in Chandler, Arizona, spoke about his father’s deeds. Valdez Jr.’s aunt later spoke to Marbury, asking if there was a way to honor Valdez Sr.

At the time, the connector between East Eighth Avenue/State Highway 3 and Camino del Rio was called Santa Rita Drive. Marbury wondered if that could be renamed.

Others got involved, including a local Vietnam veterans organization. They quickly raised $1,500 for new signs, the plan was coordinated with the Colorado Department of Transportation, and by March, Durango City Council had passed an ordinance renaming the street.

The ordinance became effective April 26, and CDOT installed new street signs May 29, 2019.

A flag ceremony was held at Santa Rita Park. Marbury said Vietnam veterans came from California, Denver, Arizona “and of course Durango.”

“I believe when we honor one Vietnam veteran, we honor all Vietnam veterans,” she said.

Relations between Hispanics and the rest of the Durango community have not always been great, to say the least. In the 1950s and ’60s, when Valdez Sr. was growing up, Durango was much more segregated and racist than it is now. (And things are certainly not perfect now.)

“I think honoring him was one of the best acts as a mayor I could do to help our city heal old wounds,” Marbury said.

Interestingly, after this renaming, the city adopted a new policy for naming or renaming city assets, which includes streets, in 2021.

Action Line has a copy of this policy but doesn’t have the word count to share it here. What Action Line got out of reading the three-page policy was that the applicant must be a human and has to have a really good reason for naming or renaming something. Hope that helps.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. You may have noticed that no Roy Scheider movies were mentioned today. In order to keep the streak going, let’s point out that Scheider in real life was an Air Force veteran and in Hollywood life starred as a colonel in “The Fourth War,” a Cold War drama.