| They have their own national anthem and
are their own sovereign nation. But that hasn't stopped the Southern
Ute Indian Tribe from sending their young men and women to fight for
American causes since World War I.
"We try to keep our Indian ways,
but we also incorporate American values into our lives," said
Roderick Grove, an elder member of the tribe and Vietnam veteran
who served in the 25th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. "We
serve under the American flag, and we're proud of that."
More than 100 members of the small tribe
have served in the country's armed services since World War
I, by Grove's estimates. In fact, many of the tribe's
current and past leaders were U.S. war veterans.
It's why the reservation is home
to multiple monuments that honor fallen soldiers and Veteran's
Memorial Park. It's also why the tribe has opened its doors
to the public each Memorial Day since 1988 to invite everyone in
the Four Corners to join it in honoring every soldier who has served
to protect America and its beliefs, several tribal members said.
On Monday, the festivities are scheduled
to begin at 10 a.m. at Southern Ute Veterans Memorial Park on Ouray
Drive, across from the Tribal Administration Building. State and
Durango officials will speak. And soldiers past and present will
be honored with songs, dancing, a procession, the presentation of
colors, awards and a 21-gun salute.
Despite the many differences that often
set the Southern Ute tribe's members apart from the La Plata
County community, Grove said Native American service men, women
and their families have much in common with their non-native counterparts.
"Our issues and sacrifices are no
different than any veteran's," said former Southern Ute
Tribal Chairman Howard Richards Sr., who served in the 9th Infantry
Division of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. "Our lives
were changed dramatically by war."
The sights, sounds and experiences of
combat create indelible and sometimes painful memories that never
fade, said elder member and Vietnam veteran Tim Watts.
Watts remembers vividly the two tigers
that followed his unit, the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S.
Army, ready to feast after skirmishes. "Giant snakes and scorpions"
and the "Third World mountain people" they encountered
also left a mark, he said.
Like many American soldiers, the men know
exactly what they sacrificed for America.
Grove served overseas for 13 months, 22
days. Watts served 11 months, 21 days. And Richards served eight
months 16 days overseas.
The men said they don't regret giving
the gift of service, and they hope the community packs the Day of
Remembrance event at the reservation this year to honor the sacrifices
of all the region's soldiers, their families and their communities.
"That's what Memorial Day is
about," Grove said.