Ignacio J. Garcia is proud to have carried on a family tradition of serving in the U.S. military. Two of his older brothers were World War II Navy veterans, and Garcia served in the Navy during the Korean War. Ever since, he has maintained his strong connection with veterans. He worked for 32 years at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, where he began his career as a gravedigger.
“When I first starting working at the National Cemetery, we didn’t have a backhoe, so it took four men to dig each grave with shovels. It took an entire day to open up one grave. Back then, we averaged 35 funerals a month, so we were always busy,” said Garcia, 76. “When we had time we would winterize graves by digging them 2 feet deep and covering them with plywood before the ground froze, so that we’d have enough graves to get us through the winter.”
In addition to working as a gravedigger, Garcia was in charge of maintaining the grounds of the cemetery. When he retired in 1991, he was the Santa Fe National Cemetery’s foreman. During his tenure, he attended countless funerals, and though they were usually somber affairs, circumstances occasionally provided a bit of humor.
“One time, while we were burying a 500-pound Native American man, we had to put down extra wood planks as we struggled to lower his body into the grave,” Garcia said. “After his funeral, we found out that his nickname was “Delgadito,” which in Spanish means little thin man.”
Ignacio J. Garcia was one of nine children born in Santa Fe to Jose Garcia and Amalia Trujillo. Four of his siblings are still living. Garcia was born at the family home on Rosario Street. He went to Carlos Gilbert Elementary School and Harvey Junior High School. After attending Santa Fe High School for one year, he enlisted in the Navy and served during the Korean War. When he returned to Santa Fe in 1956, he married Clara Baca, whom he met at a local movie theater. The couple have been married 56 years and have six children, 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
For the past 28 years, Garcia has been a member of the Fiesta de Santa Fe Caballeros DeVargas, and in 1984, he served as a member of the DeVargas staff. Also in 1984, he became a member of La Cofradia de la Conquistadora, which, each year in June, on the Sunday after the feast day of Corpus Christi, proceeds with La Conquistadora from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi to Rosario Chapel. The following week, the members participate in novena Masses to La Conquistadora, followed by another procession in which Santa Fe’s Madonna is returned to the cathedral.
“I started walking in the procession of La Conquistadora at the age of 4 with my grandmother, Juanita Trujillo. The only time I missed processions was when I was in the service,” Garcia said.
As soon as Garcia retired, he began work on the restoration of Rosario Chapel with the late Pedro Ribera Ortega. Through their efforts, and with the help of volunteers and donors, they were able to complete the renovation, which included a new heating and cooling system, new floors and furniture for the altar. When Ortega died in 2003, Garcia replaced him as caretaker of Rosario Chapel. One of his most recent tasks is the restoration of a World War II Memorial outside the chapel.
“The memorial was erected in 1949 by two organizations that no longer exist. After 60 years, it was falling apart, so in 2009, we sent letters to the families of the 136 men listed on the memorial asking for donations. We received an overwhelming response. Once we had the necessary funding, the original monument’s cracked marble was replaced with granite, which is much stronger. But that was the only thing that was replaced.”
I’m proud, that as we honor all U.S. Veterans today, the memorial still reads: “Dedicated to the men of Santa Fe and vicinity who gave their lives in World War II. Erected by Catholic War Veterans, Guadalupe Post 7 & Auxiliary 478, 1949.”
Ana Pacheco’s weekly tribute to our community elders appears every Sunday. She can be reached at 505-474-2800.