Vito Imbasciani MD, Secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs will be among the speakers at the blessing of a larger-than-life-size statue honoring American Indian and Alaska Native U.S. military veterans in Riverside on Memorial Day.
The dedication and blessing will begin at the Riverside National Cemetery, 22495 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, California, at 2 p.m.
Named “The Gift,” the 12-foot-tall statue is the work of Colorado sculptor A. Thomas Schomberg. It depicts a Native American draped in a U.S. flag. No ethnic group has served at a higher per capita rate than American Indians and Alaska Natives.
One in four Native Americans – and nearly half of the tribal leaders — are veterans. Native Americans have served in every war fought on this continent, including the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
More than 14,000 served during World War I, even though they were not citizens of the nation created on lands they had called home for thousands of years. While many associate their work as “Code Talkers” with World War II, they actually began using their native languages to communicate during World War I. Soldiers from the Choctaw and other tribes began sending battle messages in their native languages by telephone. It enabled the U.S. Army to win some key battles in France that helped bring the war to an end.
The Native American soldiers often were assigned dangerous scouting assignments, and thus suffered a high number of casualties.
Ultimately, their service in World War I compelled Congress to grant those veterans U.S. citizenship, followed by all Native Americans in 1924.
By the end of World War II, more than 44,000 Native Americans had served, including Code Talkers in a more prominent role. And 6,300 members of the Alaska Territorial Guard, who joined the Army at no pay, drove Japanese forces out of the Aleutian Islands in 1942.
They worked in industries that supported war efforts. More than 42,000 Native Americans, 90 percent of them enlisted, served in the Vietnam War. Thirty-one Native Americans have received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The Memorial Day ceremony marks the end of a months-long tour during which the statue has been on display in various California cities on its way to Riverside.