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Earl Yellowhair, Pvt. 1st Class – Window Rock AZ – Navajo Veterans Cemetery

I seem to have a knack for arriving at memorials and cemeteries near sunset, especially when the wind is blowing hard and cold.

This cemetery is unlike any other place I have visited in my life. As you approach it you are overwhelmed by the amount of honor, devotion, and love paid to their service men and women.

What is unseen in this photograph is that directly behind me and to the left and right were at least another 50 American Flags along with a fairly large number of banners specific to a military branch and/or unit. These are in addition to those seen in the image stretching to the horizon.

What can only be hinted at in this photograph is the collective whipping sound of all those flags, many tattered, from the constant late afternoon wind. It reminded me of a line of troops snapping a salute over and over. Or Gunfire.

But the real power of this place is in the dirt and that the dirt forms a testament to a renewal of confidence in themselves.

Earl Yellowhair, PFC US Army, (1923-2003), died at the time when that covenant occurred and is buried in such a manner that it is marked into the earth itself.

The European military mind orders its dead into ranks and rows, each receiving an identical headstone and emphasizes the collective over the individual. That the Navajo acquiesced to burying their dead, in a European manner for a very long time, I think to a degree, symbolizes the near destruction of their culture when they were overwhelmed by American expansionism at the end of the 19th century. That became a tradition.

After nearly a century of denial, the Navajo, or as they call themselves, “The People”, at long last found the courage to openly acknowledge this by burying their most honored dead in a manner fitting a warrior. This always was and never ceased being a tradition.

And that is why the memory of this place, represents life and not death, and even years later, still has the power to reduce me to tears.

A small sidebar:

I think my mind was more attuned to understand this place because earlier in the day I had spent about an hour talking with a man who had been a Navajo Code Talker during WWII.

He served in the Pacific from Australia through Iwo Jima. At Iwo Jima he went in on the second assault wave and was seriously wounded while trying to save several of his comrades that had just been hit with a direct mortar round. He related that this brave action could have resulted in being nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor but the only witness to what he did was killed a few days later.

He was stabilized in a field hospital and shipped across the Pacific to Seattle for further treatment and to the rest of his life. When I met him, he was still proudly wearing the patches from his unit on his coat and baseball cap. One day, he too, will join the others here.

Copyright 2012 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved.

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