For many Native Americans, the Vietnam War presented both an avenue away from the cycle of poverty and a way to demonstrate the patriotic pride of a warrior’s path through active military service. Regardless of the reason, nearly 82,000 Native Americans served in the military during that conflict. According to government archives, 226 of them never came home alive.
“Per capita, Native Americans had one of the highest records of service in the Vietnam War of any ethnic group,” notes Colonel Joseph Abodelly, Director of the Arizona Military Museum. “A majority of these men enlisted and a disproportionate number ended up in combat units – infantry, armor, airborne, artillery – as their traditional cultural value of the proud warrior compelled them to serve.”
The Military Museum and the Heard Museum in Phoenix are scheduled to partner in a Commemoration of the Vietnam War Honoring American Indian Veterans event on May 24, proceeding official Memorial Day ceremonies on Monday, May 26.
“We need to talk more about the Vietnam War and the meritorious service of those who answered the call to serve,” Col. Abodelly told Arizona Veterans Connection magazine. “Our gathering will thank and honor Vietnam veterans who served and sacrificed including personnel held as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action.”
The commemoration will be festive, from a uniformed Native American color guard Grand Entry led by representatives of the American Legion Ira Hayes Post in Sacaton to honor songs by the Thunder Springs drum group and the national anthem sung in the Navajo language by tribal member Shaylin Shabi. With a background of patriotic music, guest speaker will be Colonel Joey Strickland (Choctaw), USA (Ret), the former director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services.
In addition to the planned activities, attendees will be able to enjoy several bronze sculptures by individual Native artists including the main focal point, a 1-ton, 9-foot-tall creation by the late Chiricahua Apache sculptor Allan Houser. Titled Unconquered II, the piece was crafted by the nationally-renowned Oklahoma native, believed to be the first member of the Chiricahua Apache tribe to be born out of imprisonment following Geronimo’s surrender.
The memorial, including a Veteran’s Wall, matches the depth of the contributions service members made,” said project architect John Douglas. “There are layers of historical information integrated into a series of interpretive panels using art and sculpture created by Native artists to focus on the emotional experience.”
The Wall pays tribute to the many different ways military men and women have served and tells the stories of individuals and events which help viewers to appreciate the stories of courage and sacrifice by American Indians.
Due to space limitations at the Heard Museum’s Steele Auditorium, seating will be limited with attendance capped at 250 persons. As part of the respectful performances, requested attire will run from casual business to Army Class A or service equivalent, or traditional attire. For further information, contact the Arizona Military Museum at (520) 868-6777.