Reprinted with permissions from The Durango Herald.
They have their own national anthem and are their own sovereign nation. But that hasn’t stopped the Southern Ute Indian Tribe from sending their young men and women to fight for American causes since World War I.
“We try to keep our Indian ways, but we also incorporate American values into our lives,” said Roderick Grove, an elder member of the tribe and Vietnam veteran who served in the 25th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. “We serve under the American flag, and we’re proud of that.”
More than 100 members of the small tribe have served in the country’s armed services since World War I, by Grove’s estimates. In fact, many of the tribe’s current and past leaders were U.S. war veterans.
It’s why the reservation is home to multiple monuments that honor fallen soldiers and Veteran’s Memorial Park. It’s also why the tribe has opened its doors to the public each Memorial Day since 1988 to invite everyone in the Four Corners to join it in honoring every soldier who has served to protect America and its beliefs, several tribal members said.
On Monday, the festivities are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at Southern Ute Veterans Memorial Park on Ouray Drive, across from the Tribal Administration Building. State and Durango officials will speak. And soldiers past and present will be honored with songs, dancing, a procession, the presentation of colors, awards and a 21-gun salute.
Despite the many differences that often set the Southern Ute Tribe’s members apart from the La Plata County community, Grove said Native American service men, women and their families have much in common with their non-Native counterparts.
“Our issues and sacrifices are no different than any veteran’s,” said former Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Howard Richards Sr., who served in the 9th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. “Our lives were changed dramatically by war.”
The sights, sounds and experiences of combat create indelible and sometimes painful memories that never fade, said elder member and Vietnam veteran Tim Watts.
Watts remembers vividly the two tigers that followed his unit, the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, ready to feast after skirmishes. “Giant snakes and scorpions” and the “Third World mountain people” they encountered also left a mark, he said.
Like many American soldiers, the men know exactly what they sacrificed for America.
Grove served overseas for 13 months, 22 days. Watts served 11 months, 21 days. And Richards served eight months 16 days overseas.
The men said they don’t regret giving the gift of service, and they hope the community packs the Day of Remembrance event at the reservation this year to honor the sacrifices of all the region’s soldiers, their families and their communities.
“That’s what Memorial Day is about,” Grove said.
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