A Day to remember

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Tulalip is the proud home of countless courageous service men and women, from as far back as the first world war to this very day. Throughout the generations, hundreds of tribal members answered the call to duty, endured rigorous training, and bravely fought to defend our nation and our freedoms. 

Each Memorial Day, the families of those Tulalip soldiers and veterans who have passed on collectively join together to pay tribute to their loved ones. Keeping with the yearly tradition, the Tribe once again held two beautiful Memorial Day ceremonies on the morning of May 27, at the Priest Point and Mission Beach cemeteries.

Vietnam Veteran, Mel Sheldon, returned as this year’s Master of Ceremony and helped uplift the spirits of the community by providing some good-natured humor throughout the two services. He also took some time to reflect on the lives of his fellow brothers-in-arms who died in combat. 

Said Mel, “When we think about today, what it really means – we remember so we don’t forget, as te-at-mus (Raymond Moses) said. I think about my flight school classmate, John Sparks, he was from Idaho. We both had high hopes of becoming pilots when we got to Vietnam. We end up going our own way, I ended up flying scouts, he ended up flying Charlie model gunships. And in one battle, his ship was shot down and his body was never recovered. To this day, my brother is still over there. And I think about him, and I think about the other fellas in our unit that we lost when we were flying into Cambodia. It was a lot of action that we saw, and it had its causalities. Today, I am thankful for them for stepping up to the plate, going out on missions where they didn’t know if they would live past noon, but they went out and did their best. And it’s important we remember those men and women who have given their sacrifice.” 

As this Nation’s original caretakers, defending this land may have a more significant meaning to tribal members across the country. It may be the reason why there are approximately 31,000 active Native American men and women serving today, and why there’s over 140,000 living veterans who are of Indigenous descent, according to the Department of Defense.

At Tulalip, mini flags were placed along the gravesides of nearly 300 Tribal members, all of whom served and paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, as well as for those veterans who made it back home but are no longer with us today. Each of their names were read aloud, and families listened intently and waited patiently to hear the names of their fallen heroes as Tulalip veterans Cy Hatch III and Sara Andres performed roll call. 

At the Mission Beach Service, Chairwoman, Teri Gobi, shared a little bit about her father, Stan Jones, who was a Marines Veteran, “I want to thank each and every one of you who are here today – a lot of people think this holiday is about taking a three-day weekend and going on vacation. We always knew of its importance when we were young because our dad used to bring us here. My dad was a very proud Marine who served in World War II. When we were young, the Marine Hymn was our family song in the car. He had so much pride in serving his people, serving his country. I’m proud of each of you who served and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. And I thank each and every one of you for being here and honoring our vets.”

Two tribal veterans, Mara Hill and Dean Ledford, shared their personal experiences of time spent in the military, while also taking the time to honor their friends and family members who didn’t make it back to their homelands. Guest speaker and Vietnam veteran, Francisco Ivarra, shared the history of Memorial Day. He also spoke directly to the veterans in attendance about the importance of taking care of their mental health and dealing with PTSD. Each speaker was sure to give shoutout to the groundskeepers for their work in beautifying the cemeteries and placing the flags throughout the properties in preparation for the services.

Both ceremonies ended with a 21-gun salute in honor of those who enlisted and have since passed away. Once the ceremony at the Mission Beach cemetery concluded, the families visited the final resting places of their loved ones before they headed to the Gathering Hall to share some healing medicine together, in the form of a hot meal and good company.