Etchings in the likeness of Southern Ute Veterans, through the years, now adorn the backside of the large granite memorial central to the Veterans Memorial Park on Tribal Campus.
“The message that we are trying to send is that these are the founding fathers of the Veterans Association — up to where we are today. This is history through pictures,” explained Southern Ute Veterans Association Commander, Howard Richards Sr. “This is to illustrate to those visiting the park, that we are leaving a legacy — a story for after we’re gone.”
Southern Ute Veterans Association members, Rod Grove and Howard Richards Sr. discussed ideas for the blank space on the back of the existing monument at the Veterans Memorial Park. We wanted to illustrate through pictures on the reverse side of the monument, original members and key players from ’85 through the present, Richards explained.
“Looking at the future — what does the association look like after another 10 years? Where are we going to be? Tribal youth do not actively join the military,” noted Richards. “We need to educate the membership as a whole. Who we are, or were — our main focus is to move forward in a positive manner.”
The association voted to approve the expenditures for the new engraving project out of their own funds. The detailed engravings were handled by Family Craft Memorial out of Durango, Colo. and work was completed in August of this year.
Rod Grove played an instrumental part in the design and direction of the Veterans Memorial Park over the years, overseeing the monuments and engraving projects. Grove first served as a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) with the association, then as a vice commander for many years. He also takes responsibility for the lowering of flags in the park.
The history of the Southern Ute Veterans Association itself goes back decades, to when the veterans first came together in the mid-80’s. “The Vietnam Veterans group, became the Southern Ute Veterans Association to bring everyone under one roof,” Richards recalls. “Eugene [Naranjo] and Leonard C. Burch were the key drivers along with Tribal Council who got us to where we are today. We are a stand-alone association.”
The Veterans were passionate about topics surrounding health, education and welfare — they wanted bring these issues to the forefront. The members at time felt that an organized association could make that happen. “Back in ’95 after we approved by-laws, we had no budget. Leadership at that time would pay for travel to Ft. Duchesne, Salt Lake, Phoenix,” Richards remembers. The tribal leadership had a strong grasp of tradition and understood the important roles that veterans hold within the Tribe, Richards explained. It is important to keep in mind that the association was made up of tribal members who were veterans, tribal leaders, and spiritual leaders. “Alden Naranjo and others would handle our blessings,” Grove said — they understood the traditional aspects of Ute culture.
The association had between 18-24 members at its pinnacle — and is presently comprised of around 12 tribal members and veterans at any given time.
“Sure, we had trials and tribulations along the way,” Richards expressed. “It took us from three guys [starting the association] to the naming of the USS UTE Navy vessel. The old leadership gave us that opportunity — they would be happy that we brought it this far. Now we need to maintain our legacy through pictures, words.”