Chairman, San Carlos Apache Tribe
Hello everyone. I will share with you some thoughts about Memorial Day. It is a day to honor our fallen heroes, a day to look at the flag and to remember the sacrifices made by our military members, to honor their place of final rest. For some, this is a day for picnics, family gatherings, and barbeques, but it is so much more.
For the past two months, we all have been consumed with the coronavirus. These are dark, fearful times. Congress has spent more than $6 trillion on mitigation and economic recovery. Some 38 million Americans are unemployed. One in four businesses have closed temporarily, another 100,000 have gone out of business or declared bankruptcy, and some 7.5 million small businesses are at risk of closing permanently. Over 1.5 million Americans have been infected by this virus, and over 98,000 have died.
We have lived with a fear of a kind not known in our lifetimes. We wash our hands, sanitize, avoid crowds and keep everyone 6 feet or more away. Some liken this to a war. But it is not.
War happens when countries fight over ideals with known enemies. War happens on a battlefield. War brings a different sense of fear than this virus.
War happens when presidents and kings make their citizens warriors. Warriors put their lives at risk for what their flag stands for – God and country, patriotism, nationhood, protection of the homeland.
The smell and sound of war create horror and shock. In war, blood is spilled, lives are shattered, people are traumatized, many are maimed for life; others are permanently scarred mentally and spiritually, and lives are blown apart. Through it all, warriors fight to the death.
That is what our military forces do – they do as they are ordered; they fight to the death, for their flag, for their homeland, for the ideals of their country. Many fight with courage. Many fight with fear wrapped tightly around their heart.
Today, this Memorial Day, without question, every American must honor those who died fighting for our great country and its ideals of democracy, freedom, equality and liberty. Our fallen warriors are our heroes, after all. They fought and sacrificed themselves for our greater good when we could not.
For these reasons Memorial Day is the day when we honor our fallen military warriors, our heroes. This day is thus a solemn day, one that was created out of respect for the more than 1 million soldiers who have died in the field of combat over the history of the United States.
As President Obama once said, Memorial Day is the day “when we recall all those who gave everything in the darkness of war so we could stand here in the glory of Spring.”
Apaches, too, have served with valor and distinction. Many did not come home. They made the ultimate sacrifice for our country
Of the many, many Apache warriors who died in the field of combat, the late United States Army PFC Ernest Stanley comes to mind. Private Stanley served with the 333rd Infantry Regiment and 84th Infantry Division. He was killed in action during the Battle of the Bulge. In December 1944, 410,000 German troops surged into Belgium, France and Luxembourg. During the 40 day battle, there were 89,000 American casualties and 19,000 killed.
Private Stanley died over 5,000 miles from home on a severely cold, winter day. He was a volunteer, a lone Apache warrior. He joined the Army to fight for our country. He fought for what was right. He fought against the tyranny of fascism and the racist hatred that the Nazis stood for. And, Private Stanley did so willingly and with his brothers at arms, because theirs was a fight for peace and humanity itself – that is the true irony of war; to fight for peace and security.
I thought of Private Stanley when I visited the American Indian Veterans National Memorial located at the Heard Museum. The Memorial honors the service and sacrifice of tribal members spanning more than 300 years. In the Memorial stands a sculpture known as Unconquered II, by Chiricahua Apache sculptor Allan Houser. It shows two Apache Scouts, one standing, holding a rifle; the other kneeling, holding a spear – both look out in the same direction, their eyes fixed on something in the distance. They are ready – ready to fight. These two bronze figures stand for all warriors, past and present.
Looking at that sculpture, one word comes to mind, Ahi’yi’é (thank you). Join with me and give thanks to all our fallen Apache warriors. Give thanks to those Apache warriors that died fighting for our Tribe and America, because they did so for our freedom and our liberty. We must all provide our deep, deep respects to our fallen warriors who, like Private Stanley, exemplify bravery, honor, courage, and service.
Barbeques and family picnics are a good thing. Many do this on Memorial Day. But this Memorial Day, I urge you to take a moment, honor our fallen heroes. Give thanks for those who you can name, and for those whose names have been forgotten to time. Their lives were sacrificed for an ideal – the American dream. They gave everything up for their homeland, so that our Reservation and all of America remains safe and protected. They gave their lives so that we can be here on this clear, beautiful Spring day.
May our Creator God bless our fallen warriors. God bless you and your families. God bless America. Ahi’yi’é.
Terry Rambler is chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.