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NMSU to honor Aggies who died while serving their country

The New Mexico State University Alumni Association will once again host a Celebration of Traditions service to honor Aggies that have given their life while serving their country. This year’s event, part of the Homecoming celebration, will be at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, in the Memorial Tower.

The 2014 service will include the unveiling of the portrait of Lt. Eugene Bleiler, who is the lone remaining Aggie from World War II whose image was previously not available. During the past year, Darren Phillips, a photographer at University Communications and Marketing Services, was able to track down Bleiler’s great-nephew, who provided the university with a photograph for the memorial.

Bleiler, originally from Allentown, Pa., attended New Mexico A&M for one year. In 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces, where he trained as a navigator. In 1943, while flying as a student navigator on a photoreconnaissance mission, his plane was attacked. Bleiler and two other crewmembers were killed during the air combat.

“Unveiling this portrait of Bleiler completes the effort Miss Era Rentfrow began more than 70 years ago,” said Ben Woods, special adviser to the NMSU president. “Rentfrow worked hard to see that all of these former students would be home one day on this campus.”

Rentfrow, a New Mexico A&M graduate and registrar from 1922 to 1969, was responsible for the assembly of the photos of the Aggies that died in World War II, as well as a leader in the effort to construct Aggie Memorial Tower in their honor. The story is that Rentfrow was engaged to Joe Quesenberry, the first Aggie to die in France in World War I. Rentfrow never married and devoted her life to serving Aggies. Her dedication and the memory of the 126 Aggies killed in World War II have been the motivation behind this special tribute ceremony.

Woods has devoted extensive time researching Aggies who have died while serving their country and has been instrumental in locating photos for those Aggies that were lost in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War, as well as crafting short biographies for each of the Aggies whose portraits are displayed in the memorial.

This year’s ceremony also will see the unveiling of portraits for 11 Aggies lost in Korea, 20 in Vietnam and seven in the Gulf War.

“My gut instinct tells me that we are missing some more from Vietnam, simply because Era Rentfrow was not here to ride herd over the process,” Woods said.

Woods and other NMSU staff will continue the effort to make sure that all Aggies who died in service to their country will be recognized in the tower.

“There are many of us that care deeply about our shared history,” Woods said.

To see a slideshow of the Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War Aggies who will be honored in 2014, visit http://youtu.be/-n3vyhna8hU.