Jamul Indian Village of California opens special exhibit in Balboa Park honoring Native American veterans
November commemorates Native American Heritage Month. And on Wednesday, Nov. 9, two days before Veterans Day, the Jamul Indian Village of California unveiled a special exhibit titled “Legacy of Service,” which honors the military service of its tribal members. The display opened in the main hallway of The Veterans Museum at Balboa Park, with a reception and dedication ceremony, including blessing of the exhibit by Kenneth Meza, Jamul Village Vice Chairman and one Marine Corps Vietnam veteran acknowledged in the video that is featured centrally in the exhibit.
Meza also delivered the keynote remarks after introduction by Michael Hunter, Jamul Indian Village Executive Council Member. “We are here to honor those who went to serve,” Meza began, “our uncles, cousins and friends.” He spoke touchingly about having signed up when he was 18, about acquiring a waiver to go twice to Vietnam, about the severe difficulties he experienced from wartime protesters who harassed veterans, and about the after-effects on his life from what was then called “battle fatigue” and is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Meza said he maintained silence for 20 years about his Vietnam-era military service, while he took refuge in alcohol. But Meza traveled, met other veterans and eventually recovered his sobriety.
“Being honored by my own family, my own tribe, is big to me, being honored by being told thank you,” Meza stated. He said that he rarely sheds tears, but that, “Only thinking of veterans makes me cry.”
Sheldon Margolis, executive director of the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park, further thanked Meza for speaking so forthrightly. “Thank you for taking time to tell a hard story,” Margolis said. “I call this our museum, because this place brings to generations of today the stories of veterans who served during earlier generations.”
In an interview after the dedication ceremony, Meza reflected on the “warrior spirit” that infuses Native Americans and motivates military service. “We are born warriors,” Meza said. “Being warriors is part of our job, and our service is about how to live a better life. We find this natural to protect our country, to defend our lands for future generations so that they can live in a better world.”
Meza spoke further of dedication to family and God as impetus for military service. “This was about doing our duty, and this was not pleasant, especially seeing friends shot at and being shot at.”
The exhibit video concludes with a haunting melodic accompaniment of “Taps” performed on the Native American flute. Two years in the making, the project describes the military service of local Native Americans in all branches of the U.S. military during conflicts over that past century, through World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and others. The display can be viewed during normal museum hours. More information is available at www.veteranmuseum.org/visit.
The Jamul Indian Village of California is one of 13 bands of the Kumeyaay Nation of Southern California, which traces its people’s history back 12,000 years. More on the history and ongoing activities of this band of the Kumeyaay can be found at www.jamulindianvillage.com.