Off Main Street in Jefferson, up Cemetery Hill Road, lies a truly beautiful, humbling, and most of all, powerful, place. The All Nations Native American Veterans Memorial was opened in 2013 by a Lakotan veteran of the Korean and Vietnam War, Bill Stam, 83, and his wife Gwin, 79, of the Apache Tribe. Despite being largely unknown by the Corvallis masses, Native warriors from across the country have been here to see and to listen.
The memorial is built on the couple’s property in front of their house. As I pulled up the driveway, outlines of several tepees emerged, coupled with flagpoles bearing American, POW, Oregon, and native flags. As I arrived, I found myself face to face with an incredible, life-sized statue of a native man running down a buffalo with a spear, flags waving in the wind behind it. The Stam’s cat, Boots, greeted me warmly, and posed for some photographs in front of the Code Talkers memorial stones.
Gwin greeted me and went to fetch Bill, who was helping build a treehouse for their grandchildren on the property. Bill appeared, metal coffee cup in hand, and beckoned me toward the first memorial stone.
“A lot of people don’t know, the Native Americans have fought in every war the American flag has ever flown in, even when they weren’t U.S. citizens,” he explained.
Stam pointed at the stone and began to tell me about the people whose names were etched on the four-inch plaques attached. Many of them he knew or knows personally; All Nations honors living veterans as well as the dead. It quickly became apparent that Stam knows the biography of each person memorialized on every plaque, on every stone. He led me through the names weaving intense tales of bravery, heroism, and tragedy.
“Mitchell Red Cloud: World War II, Korea,” Stam reported. “They told him to just post a sentry; there was no Chinese in the area, but his native intuition told him to go out on the point with a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). Five o’clock in the morning, a thousand Chinese hit’m. He opened up with his BAR, was shot three times, took off his belt, tied himself to a tree, and went back to work. This gave the troops time to grab their weapons and get out of bed, and they were able to drive the Chinese back down the hill. When they got to Mitchell, he’d been shot eight times, but he took 100 Chinese with him.”
Red Cloud’s supernatural heroism on Hill 123 on that early morning would gain him a posthumous Medal of Honor.
The Stams display several stones memorializing the 34 nations of Code Talkers. The Code Talkers were a group of American Natives responsible for sending messages in native languages between American forces in battle, most famous for their work in World War II. Stam explained that this group of crypto-soldiers were originally assembled during the First World War, however.
“The Germans had broke every code that we had in World War I,” he noted. “They were kickin’ our ass because they knew what we were doing before we even did it, until the Code Talkers.”
These original Code Talkers were known as the Choctaw Telephone Squad, consisting of 19 Choctaw Americans, mainly from Oklahoma. The Germans, efficient and adept at breaking American code, were thoroughly flabbergasted by the obscure Choctaw language. The Choctaw squad was dispatched immediately, and were instrumental to the victory of several key battles toward the end of the war. Experts believe that native language code has never been broken by any enemy.
All Nations features special memorial stones designated to honor the Alamo Scouts, an elite recon unit that operated in WWII’s Pacific Theater. This unit is regarded as the predecessor to modern special forces: the Green Berets and Navy SEALS, and included many Native American soldiers. The Alamo Scouts were originally intended to collect intelligence, and worked deep behind enemy lines. The unit’s effectiveness eventually led them to conduct large scale guerrilla operations and rescue missions.
Stam regaled me with the tale of their most famous rescue: the liberation of the Cabanataun POW camp in the Philippines. Some scouts dressed as Filipino rice farmers to perform reconnaissance for this mission.
“One guy was over six foot tall trying to be a Filipino farmer,” he laughed.
Teamed up with Filipino guerrillas and part of the 6th Ranger Battalion, the Alamo Scouts rescued 513 prisoners that night and didn’t lose a single soldier. Throughout the war, the scouts would perform 110 known missions in enemy territory, rescue hundreds of POWs, and never lost a man. They arguably have the finest record of any unit in the history of the U.S. military.
Stam learns much of this by speaking to veterans and their families via telephone. I was curious as to how he was able to retain and recite such a vast amount of information, and I asked him if he has to record and study these details.
“I never write anything down,” he answered.
From there, Stam, and Boots, who’d been faithfully accompanying us, lead me into his trading post and museum to sign his visitors log. He told me that last year, 700 people from 38 states and 12 counties visited All Nations. This building contains items for sale, as well as the gorgeous traditional regalia that both the Stams and their horses adorn while they participate in various native ceremonies and events. Many other incredible native items and artifacts can be viewed, including what Stam describes as a century-old Cherokee cape, consisting of 2,682 hand-wrapped feathers.
A powerful energy exists in the space that this memorial occupies. I felt it; I had goosebumps for the majority of my visit. The natives of this country have had so much taken from them, yet when they were called upon, these warriors decided to give a little more, up to and including their lives.
By Jay Sharpe