A Community Pulls Together To Support One Man's Plan for a Native Veterans Memorial
One day in June, while Bill Stam, Lakota, was in Montana, he came across a life-size bronze statue of a Native warrior hunting buffalo. He was so taken with it that he eventually brought it back to his home in Jefferson, Oregon. There, he turned it into an all-nations Native veterans memorial—with the unexpected but overwhelming support of his community. Just four months after Stam hauled the approximately 3,000-pound statue back nearly 800 miles, his dream of transforming it into an inspiring shrine is a year ahead of schedule. Currently, the bronze behemoth sits on a bed of local river rocks next to a granite fountain. It’s emblazoned with nighttime lighting and two large flat rocks display the names of veterans on small black and silver plaques. For Stam, a Navy Korean War and Air Force Vietnam War veteran, it is part of his process of giving back. Back in June, he and his friend Gary Cherry had brought 250 boxes of clothing to the people of the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota; a week later, they found themselves taking another load of clothing to the Flathead Reservation in Arlee, Montana. “We were on our way to the buffalo grounds, when I saw a statue on the side of the road,” Stam recalled. “I said, We need to take a picture of that. As we were taking a picture, I saw there was a for sale sign on it. The kid [Cherry] said, ‘That would look good in your yard.’ He was joking. But I said, It sure would.” After returning home and showing photos he had taken of the statue to his wife Gwin, Apache, she suggested that he create a memorial. So Stam called the owner, whom he had met in Montana. She said her father, Doug Allard, who had recently walked on, had had it made about 15 years before and that it had once sat outside of a restaurant near the Flathead Museum. The woman gave Stam a price, and he was amenable. Stam declined to say how much he spent. “It was a lot of money,” he acknowledged. But even though it was a stretch, it was worth it. “We are on a fixed income,” said Stam. “I am 77 years old, and my wife is 73. It took everything we’ve been saving for. But I’ll tell you, I have a fabulous wife that would give me all of her cookie jar money to let me buy a statue.” So Stam and Cherry drove a flatbed truck back to Arlee and somehow managed to load the statue. On his return trip to Oregon, hundreds of people took photographs. “Even police officers were pulling alongside us and taking pictures,” he said. “As we pulled into a gas station a lady came up and asked what we were doing with the statue. I told her it is going to become an all-nations Native veterans memorial. She started to cry because her husband in the car was a paralyzed Vietnam veteran. She took me over and introduced me.” After arriving home, Stam said with enormous support from his community, work on the memorial was started. Stam says he is overwhelmed by so much support: “We’ve got tremendous support from the town. “The VFW has supported this and AmVets. One man donated all the materials and labor so that it is now all set up and completely covered with river rock and a stream with some dummy ducks. He also donated the lighting so it is all lit up at night,” said Stam. “Another gentleman donated a fountain that sits behind the memorial, it is beautiful.” The Jefferson City Council even agreed to place signs directing public to the site. It is now open to the public, and fund-raising continues. To pay the $160 per month it costs to keep the lights on and provide a necessary handicap-accessible portable restroom, Stam is charging $35 apiece for an engraved plaque for combat and non-combat Native veterans and veterans of Native spouses. Interested parties can fill out the application on Facebook. Stam said that above all, the memorial is honoring Native veterans from every tribal nation. As far as he knows, it is the only one of its kind. “We did a lot of research and we could not find any monument that was open to all nations,” he said. “We wanted to do this for all the nations, for all the people and my wife feels the same. So we brought it back home. My wife and I, we’re old and when we pass on, we want this to continue after we are gone.” Stam is surprised to find that the memorial’s Facebook page has attracted approval from as far away as Poland, Australia and Spain. “I don’t have a computer because I’m an old man—I don’t know how to run one, but it’s on Facebook, and people tell us that they like it,” he said. And, he said, “I spent some time in Australia when I was in the military. I love the Aborigine people. To get a ‘Like’ from them is really neat.” For more information on the memorial, click here.