“Save for them a place inside of you and save a backward glance for places they can no longer go. Be not ashamed to say you loved them. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it your own.”
Those words, written by a Vietnam GI over three decades ago, could just as well have been penned by a soldier in World War I (“The War to End All Wars”) in which 116,500 died as, for the first time in our nation’s history, American soldiers went abroad to defend foreign soil against aggression.
There have been far too many instances of armed conflict since then – 400,000 making the ultimate sacrifice in World War II; over 54,000 who perished in the Korean War; additional thousands who died in Vietnam, and numbers that are still being counted from Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a tangible tribute, Washington D.C. has played host to veterans memorials starting with the 1931 District of Columbia War Memorial thru the WWII edifice between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial to the nearby Korean War Veterans and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Walls.
The newest such demonstration of respect for our deceased military is to be dedicated on Veteran’s Day in a section of an Arizona desert cemetery dedicated solely to military members of the Pascua Yaqui Pueblo Tribe.
Until recently, federal spending had excluded veterans cemeteries located on reservations, but tribal persistency paid off as mindsets changed and cemetery funding to tribal governments became one of several new initiatives recognizing contributions of Native American troops. The newest edifice comes as a result of a $320,000 grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs – making the Yaqui tribe the only American Indian group currently federally funded for a memorial wall.
“We built a homemade brick and mortar memorial a few years ago, but couldn’t go further because of a lack of funding, so we began applying for a grant to pay for a proper structure,” says former tribal chairman David Ramirez, a retired Air Force veteran who coordinates military matters on the 202-acre southern Arizona reservation.
“Yaquis have always been a warrior society and have a long history of military service, famous from historical Spanish times to now – first because we love our country, and second, because we lost the land once and don’t want to lose it again… so we fight to protect it. For us, this was a matter of respect for our veterans who gave so much for their country,” says current tribal chairman Peter Yucupicio. “This is a tangible sign of respect, another way to show honor for our deceased military, and further evidence to our veterans that the tribe does not forget them.”
Nearly three-dozen service men and women representing all branches of the service are interred in the current veterans plot adjacent to the pueblo’s tribal cemetery. Other deceased veterans are buried with family members in the tribal plot, nearby but off the reservation, and in pueblos south-of-the-border in tribal lands in Mexico. “All their names will be engraved in the new marble and granite wall,” says Ramirez.
Upwards of three acres of the tribe’s limited land base is being dedicated to veteran’s use with 400 marker sites. “We weren’t gifted with tons of land and it’s hard to put the third largest tribe, population-wise, in a small space, but like everything else the Pascua Yaqui tribe does – not only are we doing this for our veterans, but for all Native American veterans. It’s not only for us, it’s for all who can benefit and other tribes can follow our lead to obtain funding to properly honor their own veterans,” Yucupicio says.
Although National Guard jets and Army helicopters from nearby military facilities will do fly-overs during the dedication, the tribe’s own military society color guard ceremonies will use drums instead of a bugler playing taps and three salutes with fireworks will replace the traditional rifle volleys.
Both tribal leaders note: “It is our belief that fireworks open the heavens so our departed veterans can freely ascend to the flower world.”