“They volunteered in greater numbers than this
country’s ever known. But, the freedom they fought for wasn’t theirs
when they got home. They lie in humble graves and go unrecognized.
…The American Indian Veteran — answered the call of the brave… So, tell
me why there’s never been a monument to honor… The American Indian
Veteran?”—“The American Indian Veteran” recorded and composed by Ray
Prospects are improving for construction of
the nation’s first American Indian Alaska Native Veterans memorial, as
the American Indian Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Committee (AIAN
Veterans Memorial Committee), stepped up their campaign to make people
aware of the failure of America to honor 200 years of courageous
military contributions by the country’s original people.
to Bo Mazzetti, honorary chairman of the committee, the non-profit
organization, tasked with raising $3 million to install a memorial in
Riverside National Cemetery, in Southern California, generated new
support through a public education campaign. California tribal leaders
hosted a tour of the memorial’s center-piece-monument –“The Gift,” and
the group received key endorsements from elected officials, like
California Gov. Jerry Brown. Entertainer Wayne Newton volunteered to be
the memorial’s celebrity spokesperson, and the monument also got its
own musical ballad –”The American Indian Veteran.”
new energy and a groundswell of interest in the memorial and our
fundraising drive to make it happen. The more we tell people about the
memorial, the more they wonder why there isn’t one. The answer is that
Indians have to raise our own funds and construct our own monument”, the
honorary chairman pointed out.
memorial for our veterans at Riverside National Cemetery has been too
long coming. It’s time. This is the year to get it done!
want America to know that we too have a memorial that shows not just
our pride – there is plenty of that—but a visible testimony where people
will actually see and feel the sacrifices Indian people have made and
continue to make for love of this country,” added Mazzetti.
to raise the $3 million cost to construct and install the memorial; the
AIAN Veterans Memorial Committee took their campaign to California’s
tribal-owned casinos and resorts.
Thanks to tribal
leaders, who hosted the replica of the sculptured monument –”The Gift”
— and the memorial presentation, the tour traveled to tribal casinos
and resorts in San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties. The
tour will be traveling north to Santa Barbara and Northern California
Created to raise awareness of the
memorial, the tour featured a ½-size replica of “The Gift,” the 12-foot
bronze sculpture, which will be the focal point of the memorial. A
profoundly passionate piece of work by the renowned artist, A. Thomas
Schomberg, “The Gift” portrays a proud Indian robed in an American flag,
mounted on a pedestal, and surrounded by 12 bronze, soaring eagles on
Known as the “Arlington of the West,”
Riverside National Cemetery, which has been designated the site of the
AIAN memorial, is also is home to other prestigious memorials, including
the Medal of Honor Memorial, the Veterans Memorial, and the POW/MIA
According to Sharron Savage, AIAN
Veterans Memorial Committee chairwoman, the purpose of the tour was not
just about funding the memorial, but also to educate people about the
extraordinary contribution of American Indian and Alaskan Native
veterans in service of the United States.
response was amazing. People loved the replica of the statue. We had
crowds; people stopping to take pictures and asking questions everywhere
we went. They were shocked to learn that there was no federal
recognition of the extraordinary military service of the American Indian
people — people, who voluntarily served in WWI even though they did not
have citizenship in their own country,” she noted.
committee got another boost from Mr. Las Vegas — Wayne Newton. Newton,
who is of Indian descent, signed on as celebrity sponsor of the
memorial. Known for his contributions to the U.S. military, the United
States Service Organizations (USO) — with more than 160 centers
worldwide — named Newton to take the torch of chairman of the “USO
Celebrity Circle” from another legend: Bob Hope.
gratitude to Newton for lending his name and time to honor American
Indian veterans, Mazzetti, a veteran of the Vietnam War, thanked Newton
for “helping to dedicate a sacred space of remembrance — a final resting
place for those whose sacrifices have too long been overlooked.
“On behalf of our committee and Indian veterans throughout the US, I can only convey our heartfelt thanks,” he said.
the word, an advertising donation of $700,000, kicked off a three week,
California radio campaign in March, featuring Newton’s endorsement of
the memorial. Newton also recorded a public service announcement, which
will be airing on television. He has also volunteered to help with
fund-raising efforts, with the possibility of a concert in the future.
April 8, the AIAN Veterans Committee, sponsored a traditional “Honoring
and Cultural Ceremony” to bless the Riverside-Cemetery Memorial site.
The event highlighted the area dedicated to the memorial, and memorial
renderings. Numerous veterans’ dignitaries spoke at the event,
including Donald E. Loudner (Hunkpati Sioux), CW4 (US ARMY, RET),
National Commander, National American Indian Veterans, Inc., and Ricardo
Reyes, California Undersecretary of Cal-Vets Minority Affairs.
Riverside Cemetery is located on land that was originally home to a
number of Southern California Indians. The event was a traditional
honoring and dedication of the land as sacred – a hallowed resting place
for our veterans,” explained Mazzetti.
He went on
to note that the cemetery is on Colorado Desert lands, which only became
Riverside County in the 19th Century. It was home to diverse bands of
California Indian people, including the Cahuilla, Gabrielino, Serrano,
Luiseño, Chemehuevi, and Mojave tribes. Other Native Americans call the
county home, including urban Indians from tribes throughout the nation.
was a moving event,” Mazzetti said. “American Indian-Alaska Native
veterans’ flag corps, honoring drum groups, Bird Singers, Jingle
dancers, spiritual and tribal leaders came together with veterans and
their families to remember and pray for all who have served and bless
the land that will become their earthly resting place.”
of the highlights of the event was the introduction of the song, “The
American Indian Veteran”– written specifically about the Riverside-AIAN
memorial and performed by Jimmy Ray Sells, Nashville songwriter and
Board Member of “Operation Song.”
The lyrics were
written by Sells, Don Goodman, Operation Song Founder Bob Regan, and
Commander Don Loudner. Sells previously performed another original
song, “Arlington,” on Memorial Day, 2015, at the Tomb of the Unknown
In the ballad of the “The American Indian Veteran,” Sells asks, “Tell me why there has never been a monument to honor them?”
the last chorus of the song, Sells depicts the sculpture, “The Gift,”
finally at home in the memorial for the American Indian and Alaska
“I see a statue of a proud
warrior, winter wind and summer rains, standing vigil over all our
heroes’ names. A bronze face of courage, a feather in his hair, old
glory on his shoulders and on his lips a silent prayer… for The American
“They answered the call of the
brave…Tell me why there has never been a monument that honors them?… The
American Indian Veteran.”
“I think the chorus of
the song pretty well sums things up. We are also asking ‘Why there is no
memorial that honors them’?” lamented Mazzetti, adding, “The mission
of the AIAN Veterans War Memorial Committee is to answer the question
of, ‘Why not?’ with a, ‘Hell, yes!’ we are honoring our veterans with a
He added, “We have all the plans and
permits approved, the monument is commissioned and ready to be
completed, and installed in one of the West Coast’s most prestigious,
most beautiful and peaceful locations in the cemetery.
some financial help, next year, we can all come to a celebration to
break ground on the first and only American Indian Veterans Memorial,”