At the invitation of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and with the assistance of the Yaqui Warriors MC, Vietnam Vets/Legacy Vets MC, and American Legion Yoeme Post 125 the Cost of Freedom Travelling Vietnam Memorial Wall was exhibited in Tucson at the Yaqui-owned Casino Del Sol February 23-25th. This seems an appropriate venue as I am informed that of any ethnic group, Native Americans are represented in the military in numbers disproportinaly large to their percentage of the overall populace and too many of their names are etched into that black wall. Call it a testament to courage, love of country, and Warrior Spirit. These people have been practicing Homeland Security for a long time now.
The Yaquis may not be numerous but the are strong in unity and pride. They are the only native people with a designated tribal homeland in Mexico, granted by the Spanish colonial government as part of a peace treaty in 1807. Their spirit of independence and self reliance is exemplified by the Yaqui Warriors MC who regularly attend and support the charitable events of other local clubs and work tirelessly in support of youth programs on and off the reservation.
Accompanied from the highway by an honor guard of bikers on the 21st, the wall was open for viewing on Friday the 23rd with the main ceremony occuring on the following Sunday, including participation by clergymen of several denominations, veterans and representatives of veteran’s organizations, and local and national Arizona politicians. I was able to attend Saturday’s ceremony involving a moving address by Native American veterans to the accompaniment of traditional flute music and the display of a sacred eagle’s wing and the burning of desert herbs as people were encouraged to touch the wall as a group and the bikers paraded past in a Ride of Honor. Many who rode had served their country in Viet Nam and knew too well the suffering and sacrifice the wall is intended to represent. It was an emotional experience for those gathered and the mood was subdued and respectful of those who gave all. I think that while many were there as patriotic bikers and veterans, all were present as freedom loving citizens of a nation that means to stand for mankind’s highest ideals.
But why is this memorial tribute significant to others than those that served or whose family name appears on that cold stone? It all happened forty years ago in a country both foriegn and far away with an ancient and complex culture riven by factional hostility that was little understood by outsiders. At the time many felt it was the wrong war for the wrong reasons. A war initiated on a flimsy premise, poorly planned and prosecuted by career building military men and disingenious leaders who staked their political fortune on it’s outcome, and whose optimistic assurance of an eventual successful resolution was belied by a lack of demonstrable progress as the same ground was fought over again and again and casualties mounted. Men whose own military aged offspring were conspicous by their absence from the places where bullets were flying and brave soldiers were dieing. A war against a shadowy enemy who refused to play by our rules and was difficult to differentiate. In time many came to see that war as unwinnable while others felt that this was a defeatist attitude and the main impediment to victory in a noble cause and a necessary conflict. The nation was deeply divided as to how to respond to a determined enemy whose best tool for recruitment was our own presence and best effort, and who would still be there at whatever point we decided to leave. Sound familiar? It should. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Remember the fallen, thank a Vet for their service, and choose your fights wisely.