Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Veterans Memorial honors 96 fallen soldiers
RENO, Nev. — The names of the 96 deceased Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Native warriors were unveiled on Memorial Day in the Hungry Valley Cemetery.
Displayed on a custom-constructed, 8-foot-high, adobe wall, the memorial includes eternal recognition for American Indian soldiers who served in the armed forces, and it can now can be seen by all visitors to the cemetery.
“The RSIC Veterans Memorial has been in the works for some time now,” RSIC Chairman Arlan D. Melendez told the crowd of about 100 on May 27. “Our Native American soldiers, all soldiers, made a great sacrifice, so today is a day to stop, reflect, and remember all veterans, and particularly, those soldiers who gave the ultimate price to protect our freedom.”
In addition to the wall of names, the RSIC Veterans Memorial entrance opens with a Fallen Soldier Display statue.
According to the official website of the U.S. Marines, the helmet and identification tags signal the fallen soldier. The inverted rifle with bayonet signals a time for prayer to pay tribute to the comrade. The combat boots represent the final march of the last battle. The helmet reminds us that the soldier has taken part in his/her final jump.
Chairman Melendez explained that what has become a federal holiday for honoring people who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, was once called Decoration Day.
“It began as a memorial to Civil War soldiers who had died in the war, both Union and Confederate,” Chairman Melendez said. “Now we call it Memorial Day, and this holiday has special meaning and a tremendous presence in our community.”
The day began at the Mountain View Cemetery in west Reno where six members of the Colony rest. About 25 people decorated graves and placed American flags not just on RSIC Veterans markers, but at any burial site of a veteran.
The RSIC Color Guard initiated the formal ceremony with a call to attention.
After the Star Spangled Banner, Natalia Chacon played her hand drum and sang the Flag Song — or as it is also known, the Native American National Anthem.
Reverend Augustin Jorquez of the Hungry Valley Christian Fellowship provided an invocation.
In Hungry Valley, seven Native veterans are buried, including World War II veteran Cpl. Thomas Evan McGinty, who was laid to rest on June 1.
Again, serving as the emcee, Chairman Melendez told the larger group about the role Native Americans have played in the duration of the U.S. military since even before the founding of the country.
“Native Americans have served and died for the U.S., from the beginning, with almost 3,600 American Indians who served in the Union Army during the Civil War,” Chairman Melendez said. “Even though American Indians were not considered U.S. citizens when World War I broke out, 12,000 of them volunteered to serve the country in the Great War, including 14 women who joined the Army Nurse Corps.”
Currently, the RSIC has 46 living veterans and four soldiers on active duty.
Chairman Melendez went on to explain that by the end of the second World War, 44,500 Native Americans had taken up arms for the country, or about one-third of all able-bodied Indian men of service age.
As the holiday calls for, much of the day’s focusing was on those who gave the ultimate price for our freedom, specifically veterans who died during battle.
“John (Ira) Aleck was one of those who went to war in Vietnam. He lost his life in combat and he was only 22 years old,” Chairman Melendez said. “His entire family and generations to come have been affected by his loss.”
In fact, of the 58,320 soldiers who died during the Vietnam Conflict, Aleck is one of 232 Native warriors who lost their lives during the war.
“Let us remember their families who were wounded in spirit, when they heard the sad news that their loved one had died defending this country,” Chairman Melendez said.
During the observance in Hungry Valley, the Eagle Wing Pageant Dancers along with several members of UNITY (United National Indian Tribal Youth) sang, the Flag Song.
Vincent Stewart provided a closing prayer in both English and Paiute.
“Maybe peace will come someday…,” Chairman Melendez said. “People’s hearts aren’t right yet, so we will always have soldiers going into the military.”
At both cemeteries, the observances concluded with the playing of Taps.
This article was provided to First Nation’s Focus by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and is republished with permission.