By Vanessa Kahin
Clara Montano’s inspiration to serve veterans comes from military service rendered seven decades ago.
Montano, president of the Military Order of the Cootie — a Veterans of Foreign Wars auxiliary — is active with the group’s mission to support area vets. She is joined by her sisters, Rosie Zollo, Suzanne Moreno and Nadine Armijo, who are all life members of the VFW.
Montano is also joined by her son, who is active in a Tucumcari auxiliary, as well as several nieces and great-nieces who serve veterans through the Ladies Auxiliary of the Clovis VFW Post 3015.
All of these individuals were inspired to serve veterans and their community by the actions of their common ancestor — 92-year-old World War II veteran Severiano Armijo.
Drafted into the military in 1942, Armijo served in the Army’s 88th Infantry Division for three years; fighting in Africa and Italy.
Although he has been awarded a multitude of recognitions for his service, including the Bronze Star Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the Honorable Service Lapel Button, Armijo is often reluctant to speak about his days in the service.
“He would never talk to us about the war,” said Montano. “Not until he got older.”
And even now, she said, the information about her father’s military service is scarce.
His daughters believe he got frostbite on his toes while in Europe — the effects of which continue to afflict him to this day.
His daughters assert his hearing loss was caused mostly by his fighting on the front lines.
Armijo’s daughters also said that, during his service, he would trade the cigarettes he received in his rations for Hershey’s kisses.
Although the details of his service overseas is obscure, Armijo’s family is certain about his work to aid his fellow veterans in his community. Montano said Armijo joined the VFW in 1955. Her mother and Armijo’s wife, Mary Armijo, joined the organization’s Ladies Auxiliary in 1957.
“They were there at every meeting, every function,” Montano said of her parents’ involvement in the VFW. “Mom would be there all the time, cooking.”
Most recently, Severiano Armijo served as Grand Marshal of a Veterans Day parade in 2006.
Many in the community may know Severiano Armijo best for his work plastering buildings — it was work Armijo did following his military service, Montano said, and how he supported 10 daughters and one son.
Aside from his children, Montano said, Armijo also supported his parents and younger siblings.
“My father is a very strong man,” Montano said. The lesson of strength and supporting others was not lost on Armijo’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have followed in his footsteps to help area vets.
Montano said she became more active in helping veterans and their families when her more immediate responsibilities subsided.
“I started getting involved after my kids were grown and left the house,” she said. With the Military Order of the Cootie, Montano visits veterans in the VA hospital in Amarillo, Texas, once a month. She also periodically visits VA hospitals throughout New Mexico.
The Military Order of the Cootie also organizes a monthly birthday party for residents at Retirement Ranches; donating a cake and gifts.
Montano has also helped raise funds for cancer research and scholarships.
Armijo’s daughter Moreno said being active in veterans’ groups is like stepping up to a plate. And, she said, it feels good.
“It’s an honor for me to help the veterans,” Moreno said.
“I’m very proud of my dad,” said daughter Nadine Armijo. “We’re proud of what he’s accomplished in life.
“We had a wonderful father.”