Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Navajo Nation Veterans Memorial


Cradled in the stone of the Window Rock is the Navajo Nation's ultimate tribute to all the brave warriors, past and present, who served this land to protect the ways of the Navajo people. This is what a visitor might think as she comes to the monument. My son died in the Vietnam War. I miss him, but his memory lives on in my heart. I am happy that the Nation has created a memorial to honor him and all other Navajos who fight for our land.

As I leave the parking area across from our president’s office, there is a path that leads around the juniper trees to the monument. I pass the States flags of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah along the way. They do not define any state border because this is one land, not fifty. As I approach the southern gate, the American flag is on the left and the Navajo Nation flag is on the right. They are of equal height. As I look northward to the Window Rock, I see that the memorial is a giant circle, tilting towards the South, towards the sun. It is easy to see that this is a medicine wheel. With each of the directions honored. The paths point to the sacred mountains of our history.

The circle is the unending strength of our people. It is the shape of our Hogan. In the center of the great circle, is a block of native stone and it is on fire. They tell me that it will never go out. It represents the light of the Spirit. There is a reverence about this place. I can hear to my left a small waterfall. There is a pool with water coming out of the stone. The four sacred elements are all here. The water in the west. The fire in the center. The air, earth and the stone are all around us. The Sky is overhead.

In this circle, we move to the right. It reminds us of the circle of life. Against the stone cliff to the right are sixteen metal columns standing at attention, like soldiers in formation. The columns thrusts out at the top like the proud chests of our warrior sons and daughters. I walk in reverence around the monument. The stone is warm from the sun.

As I pass beneath the raised metal arms I see that between each are slabs of glass. It feels like a dying soldier being carried by his comrades. There are many slabs of glass and as I get closer I see that there is writing in the glass. This is a special place. It makes me feel quiet and respectful. Everything here pays tribute in some way to our warriors and to the land they fought to protect. As I look up to the glass I see the names are written backwards. Why is this? I look down and on the path are hundreds of names. A small cloud passes over and the names blur for a moment. Maybe it is my tears. I understand now.

The names of our warriors are forever painted on the ground. On the path each morning the sun comes up in the East and casts the shadows of our warriors on the earth and flowers and trees. As the sun moves across the sky, the names move away from the setting sun and to the East toward tomorrow; Rebirth.

I want to find my son. Where is my boy? I bow my head and see his name near my feet. I bring my hands up and he is here. His shadow plays across my open palms. My boy is here today and is touching me. I can feel his spirit, balanced between the sky and the earth. I hear his voice in the water.

After I talk to my son, I finish walking around the circle. I stop for a moment and look through the Window Rock. This is the Window to the next world. It is peaceful here. I pray there will be no more wars, but the open and final glass panel lets us know that peace is a delicate thing, like life.

I stop along the path to look at the wildlife. Birds sing from the trees and bees hum to the water. There is a stone wall by the water with little windows. I will pass there on my way home. As I walk toward the sound of water, I see that the Chapel is built into the rock mountain. The mountain embraces the Chapel, holding it firm to the ground.

I enter the small enclosure and I walk past others inside, I stop at one of the small windows. It becomes a painting that frames the view back to the East and the memory of our warriors. For a moment I have hope. From the East I know the sun will come again and hope it brings peace, not war. It is time to leave. I walk down the path as it ramps back to the American and Navajo flags. I will remember this day. It is the day I walked with the spirit of my son and with the spirit of the Navajo people. Yes, this is a special place.

Dedicated by the Navajo Nation in 1995. Kammeyer & Associates, as the Nation’s Landscape Architect of record, worked with Navajo staff to refine design concepts and build the War Memorial. Artwork by Bob Brown, K&A Director of Design - Photos by Ken Kammeyer Poster graphic by Navajo Veterans Committee

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