RIVERSIDE, Calif. – A prisoner of war memorial centers on an imposing seven-foot sculpture of a bare-chested serviceman knelt and bound, his head tilted up to the heavens. On the other side of the sprawling cemetery, a large site is guarded by somber monoliths and a cascade provides a tranquil shower amid marble walls etched with Medal of Honor recipients.
“Everyone in the country will come and see that Native Americans were here and fought in every conflict,” – Maurice “Macho” Lyons Morongo Band of Mission Indians Council Member
When it comes to honoring those who served and died, the Riverside National Cemetery memorializes in dramatic fashion; and the next one will no doubt measure up to its antecedents. Its elaborate design, although presently conceptual, has been drawn, vetted and waiting final funding and approvals. But it will also be striking because it will be the only one to collectively memorialize the American Indian veterans in the country’s 144 national cemeteries.
“We feel the stories of American Indian veterans are not being told. This will help change that,” said Don Loudner, a Crow Indian and member of the National Cemetery Administration’s advisory committee, an agency under the Department of Veterans Affairs which manages most of the nation’s cemeteries.
Noting that Indians had fought in every war, even before nationhood, and their high rate of joining the armed forces, people involved in the campaign said such a memorial was long overdue.
A conceptual sketch of the proposed pedestal and sculpture for the American Indian Veterans Memorial at Riverside National Cemetery.
“Everyone in the country will come and see that Native Americans were here and fought in every conflict,” said Morongo Band of Mission Indians Council Member Maurice “Macho” Lyons. Lyons has two brothers; one came back from Vietnam, and the other did not.
The memorial is slated to be positioned at a prominent location in the 900 acre cemetery; it is expected to extend around a lake and be dotted with 12 pedestals, each depicting a significant Indian contribution to the country and correlating with each BIA region. One pedestal could be carved into a Choctaw code talker, another could depict Ira Hayes or Lori Piestewa.
An eagle will decorate the pedestals each depicting a segment of its flight from takeoff to landing, members of the advisory committee said. The conceptual plans also call for a terrazzo plaza at the street side end of the lake with built-in sightlines leading to each pedestal overlooking the water.
“It’s going to be like a history book, a touching story about American Indians’ service to our country,” said Dan Brown, a retired Air Force one-star general and advisory committee member.
Some $250,000, provided by the Morongo Band from nearby Cabazon, has paid for architects and exploratory studies and plans, Brown said. Supporters are hoping tribes will help pay the expected $4 to $5 million it will take to build.
Lyons and Brown said the idea of erecting the memorial was born out of a conversation they had over lunch.
“It’s going to be like a history book, a touching story about American Indians’ service to our country,” – Dan Brown, retired Air Force one-star general and advisory committee member
“Me and Macho were looking at the cemetery’s map and Macho saw that there was a spot on the lake that said TBD (to be determined),” Brown recalled. “Macho requested that an Indian veteran’s memorial should be put there and I said ‘you know you are right. That is where it should be and it will be,’” Brown said.
The cemetery, located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, is a fit place to have the distinction, the men said. Not only is it central to dozens of Indian tribes and a large Indian population, but the cemetery has demonstrated to be unique and bold by erecting four previous elaborate memorials funded by private money, Brown said.
“We are the only cemetery in the nation doing this.” The proposed American Indian Memorial, just as the cemetery’s other four, will be essentially a “gift to the government.” The VA must still approve and oversee planning and construction. Input from tribes and BIA regions is also being sought to coordinate the themes of the pedestals.
With the VA having already endorsed the concept, supporters of the memorial are waiting on complete funding to seek final approval and an anticipated date of completion has not been finalized, Brown said.
Lyons stressed the importance of making the memorial a pan-American Indian effort including its funding.
“Our hope is to have as many people help. Any amount will do, even a dollar. We have enough people to do it.”