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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

Native American Memorial Dedication
Washington, DC
November 11, 2022

Greetings, everyone. I’m honored to join you on the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Anacostan and Piscataway people. Indeed, all of this country is tribal land—where we live and work and where, today, we dedicate this enduring memorial.

And I want to say how proud I am to be here with so many Veterans, Tribal Leaders, and Tribal Elders today to dedicate the National Native American Veterans Memorial.

It’s fitting that we’re here on Veterans Day—because this day, like this memorial, honors the Native Vets who put their lives on the line for us, for this country—so that the highest ideals and core values of our nation might endure.

It is an extraordinary act to put on the uniform of our nation, leave the safety of home, deploy to a war zone in a foreign land, and fight for the freedom of others—freedoms that many Native Vets did not enjoy themselves.

But it’s something that so many Native Veterans have done throughout the years, across conflicts and across the world.

That’s what this day honors. That’s what this memorial honors.

Their service.

Their stories.

Their sacrifice.

Their heroism.

Nobody exemplifies service, sacrifice, and heroism better than PFC Charles George—a member of the Cherokee Nation and Bird Clan—who joined the Army when he was just 18 and volunteered to serve in combat in Korea.

On the night of November 29th, 1952, PFC George and his unit launched an attack on Chinese troops north of Seoul. After a brutal, hand-to-hand fight, the mission was successful—and the danger had seemingly passed.

But then, an enemy grenade landed in PFC George’s trench.

He didn’t think, and he didn’t hesitate.

He threw his battle buddy to safety, and then threw himself on the grenade to save the lives of his two friends.

He died that night, at 20 years old. Now, we will never know what went through the mind of PFC George that night ... but that service, that sacrifice, that heroism, that courage … that’s what this memorial captures.

It’s what this memorial remembers.

And it’s that dedication to service that has been shared by Native Vets of every generation.

Vets like 98-year-old Charles Norman Shay, a Penobscot Tribal Elder who served as a medic during World War II and Korea—one of the first people to land on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Vets like Galyn Minkel, a member of Lower Sioux Indian Community, who served as an Air Traffic Controller during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Or Vets like Mitchelene BigMan, a member of the Crow Nation, who founded the Native American Women Warriors, the first all-female Native color guard.

The list goes on and on. Throughout history, Native Veterans like them—Veterans like so many of you—have done so much for us. 

Your honorable service in uniform has set the example for the rest of us.

In so many ways, you’re the keepers of our national ethos—that deep and abiding sense of purpose you learned in serving.

Your sense of teamwork that made you stronger, together—in combat and now, in your communities—represents a sense of shared destiny that is so unique today.

Looking around, that's exactly what we need today.

Camaraderie. Truth. Togetherness. True service. True patriotism.

And it’s something that all of us—each of us—can learn from.

Simply put, through your service and your selflessness, you teach us and remind us of what it truly means to be an American.

And for that—and so much else—we are forever in your debt.

This day reminds us of that, and this memorial commemorates that.

So, I want to thank the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of the American Indian, and Vietnam Vet Harvey Pratt who designed this memorial so beautifully and so meaningfully.

Most of all, I want to thank the Native Veterans who are here today for your service, and for all you’ve done.

This day is your day, and it is a true honor to honor you.

God bless you all. Thank you.