On December 7, which marked the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American Legion Bushmasters Post 114 and Discover Salt River presented an all-day commemoration at the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River.
More than 600 people attended the event in total, and the day was extra special due to the notable presence of many Native American veterans past and present. Rather than conducting one large program, event organizers held several different types of activities throughout the day to reduce crowding and to make the experience more impactful for visitors.
“[The Native American veterans] really represented us today. I was surprised and happy that they showed up because of the pandemic,” said Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Veterans Representative Amanda White.
“With them coming out, I now look forward to their aid and support in future events. Going forward, I think we could utilize this space more at the Veteran’s Circle at the Gardens.”
Reflecting on the anniversary and veterans in the Community, SRPMIC Vice-President Ricardo Leonard thought about when he was younger and saw a lot of men walking around the Community.
“People just saw them as alcoholics, not knowing until they passed away that they were highly decorated veterans,” said Leonard.
“It was the issue of shellshock at the time (what is called PTSD today). A lot of people had difficulty dealing with their life after coming back home from the military. We (Native Americans) have always been strong in our military presence and our young people getting involved in the military. I look to my grandfather, who survived the Spanish-American War; he never talked about his service. With a lot of military veterans in our Community, the elders, they don’t talk about these things unless you actually sit them down.”
Leonard said that it’s something extra special to have the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens in the Community as a location to have a commemoration like this, and that it strengthens the Community’s position with veterans in the state of Arizona and all those who come and visit.
“This is a place for all veterans and those who have lost loved ones,” said Leonard.
The day of remembrance began at 8 a.m., with a wreath-laying presentation and an annual breathing of the flag ceremony conducted by members of Bushmasters Post 114. Bugler David Bonczkiewicz then played “Taps” during a 21-gun salute.
Salt River tourism specialist Maleena Deer introduced U.S. Senator Mark Kelly’s military/defense outreach representative, Dan Toporek, who was accompanied by Luther Lee, the director of tribal engagement from Senator Kelly’s office.
The morning ceremonies were streamed at 10:50 a.m. at www.USSArizonaSaltRiver.com.
At 11 a.m., the Airbase Arizona Flying Museum performed a flyover through different parts of the metro Phoenix area and made a stop over the Gardens. The flyover began with four airplanes piloted by a freelance group of private aircraft owners who led the way.
Two planes followed from Airbase Arizona that flew missions during World War II: the B-17 Flying Fortress “Sentimental Journey” and the C-47 Skytrain “Old Number 30.” Many onlookers stayed to watch the planes and shared their photos on social media.
After an afternoon break, the commemoration picked up again at 5 p.m. with the Arizona Fire Service Pipe Band marching out in front of Chief Petty Officer Joe Ramos and the Navy Talent Acquisition Group Phoenix Honor Guard presenting colors. Members of Bushmasters Post 114 marched in their colors behind the Honor Guard.
The day’s events ended with the illumination of the ceremonial garden at military twilight.