In a Phoenix city park near a busy intersection along Central Avenue and Indian School Road stands a building to honor veterans of what was called, The World War.
Of the 62 boys from the Phoenix Indian Industrial School who enlisted in World War I, 60 came home. Lee Rainbow and Wallace Antone were killed in action.
What makes this veteran story unique is all 62 boys were not considered U.S. citizens and, as a result, were exempt from serving. Still, they enlisted and served with honor.
These boys had been taken from their tribes, their communities and clans and were sent to this government run boarding school where they worked the farms in the morning and took classes in the afternoon. They were a part of the government’s boarding school policy to, “kill the Indian and save the man.”
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After the war the government allocated funds to build Memorial Hall in their honor. It is only one of two memorials in the state to honor veterans from WWI. In front of the building is a bronze plaque with the names of each boy who served and the two who died.
Memorial Hall was dedicated Nov. 11, 1922, four years after the war ended. Two years later then-President Calvin Coolidge would sign the U.S. Citizenship Act granting citizenship to all Native Americans. Decades later Native Americans in Arizona got the right to vote.
When WWII broke out, another boy from Phoenix Indian enlisted and became a national hero. Ira Hayes, a Pima from the Gila River Indian Community, became a Marine paratrooper. He helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima.
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The Phoenix Indian Industrial School would eventually change its name to the Phoenix Indian School. Memorial Hall was used as an assembly hall for students. Movies were shown there on weekends, school dances were held inside and special events were also held there, like the annual Christmas pageant, the Miss Phoenix Indian Pageant and also graduation. The boarding school operated from 1891 to 1990.
Today the city of Phoenix owns and operates Memorial Hall. It’s fully renovated with air conditioning and can be rented for community activities. There is a suspended balcony inside the hall. The land that used to be the school grounds of the Phoenix Indian School is now Steele Indian School Park.
In October, as part of Native American Recognition Days, the city of Phoenix held an event to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Memorial Hall.
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