Bill Seeks to Raise Funds for Native American Veteran's Memorial

A bronze eagle – wings spread and talons outstretched — is frozen in swoop on the granite pillar Angelo Schunke walks past, heading to point out his name engraved in gold.

More than 90 names are on this tribute to Morongo Band of Cahuilla Indians military veterans.

“That’s 10 percent of our tribe,” said Schunke, 59, of Yucaipa, a U.S. Navy veteran who helped establish the memorial.

“We have served our country proudly and honorably as Native Americans,” he said. “It was your duty. It was an honor to serve and to do it in such a way that you’re putting back, or doing your part or appreciating what you have — and you’re willing protect it.”

The memorial, arranged in a circle to represent tribal rituals and with weave patterns as a nod to the tribe’s heritage of basket weaving, is among few in the country dedicated to Native Americans.

Schunke’s visit to his name on Thursday, though, coincided with a bill being introduced to raise money and build a Native American Veterans’ Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, introduced the legislation to fix a problem with the original law, passed in 1994, which didn’t allow the National Museum of the American Indian the ability to raise money for the project.

“Per capita, Native Americans, including American Indians, Alaska natives and native Hawaiians, serve at a higher rate in the armed forces that any other group of Americans and have served in all of the nation’s wars since the Revolutionary War,” Schatz said in a statement. “Our native veterans have sacrificed their lives for this country and it is important that we recognize their bravery and patriotism with a fitting memorial.”

There are 156,515 American Indian and Alaska native veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, plus 22,248 serving on active duty

As of October 2012, 70 American Indians and Alaska Natives have died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 513 have been wounded in action.

American Indians have participated with distinction in U.S. military actions for more than 200 years.

Many tribes were involved in the War of 1812, and Indians fought for both sides as auxiliary troops in the Civil War. Native Americans from Indian Territory saw action in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Code talking — secret communication built on a native language — was pioneered by Choctaw Indians serving in the U.S. Army during World War I

The work of the World War II Indian code talkers is legend.

Jerry Lomas, 67, a Serrano Indian who lives on the Morongo Indian Reservation, also has his name on the Morongo memorial. He served from 1963 to 1972, including two tours in Vietnam. His upper body is covered with tattoos depicting his experiences in battle.

“I had a couple of tanks shot out from under me,” Lomas said. “Most of the time we were there, we were night loggers. They’d dig out a doughnut in the middle of the jungle, push all the dirt up, and they put you there, and you better stay awake all night, or you’ll get your throat cut. That was touch-and-go for awhile.”


The Desert Sun
By: Denise Goolsby
May 26, 2013