US Army veteran Gilbert Jarvis of Fort Washakie during the Aug. 12, 2021 dedication ceremony for the Path of Honor Wind River Veterans Memorial. (Kirk Rasmussen/WyoFile)

FORT WASHAKIE — Military veterans carry a lot of scars, said Scott Ratliff, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe who served in Vietnam, and there’s no magical balm to fix them. 

But in recent days, Ratliff has been walking the red path that meanders through a new veterans memorial in Fort Washakie, he told a crowd Thursday during the memorial’s heavily attended opening ceremony. 

And it’s helped.

“It really is healing,” Ratliff said, his voice breaking. “I found some of that [magic]. So I want to thank all those who made this happen. It’s worth the energy.”

People walk through the Path of Honor Wind River Veterans Memorial, which consists of four large stones, during the Aug. 12, 2021 dedication ceremony in Fort Washakie. (Kirk Rasmussen/WyoFile)

More than 300 people attended the dedication ceremony, held at the Frank B. Wise Business Plaza, where the memorial was recently erected on a patch of land near Highway 287.

Participants paid solemn tribute to veterans — both those in attendance and those held in memories — with drumming, flag ceremonies, a rifle salute and speeches. They also celebrated the culmination of a project that’s been in the works for years.

Vernon Harris, in red, performs an honor song with the Arapaho Eagle Drum Group during the Aug. 12, 2021 dedication ceremony for the Path of Honor Wind River Veterans Memorial. (Kirk Rasmussen/WyoFile)

The origins date back to 2008, when the Wind River Development Fund and members of American Legion Post #81 joined forces to build the business plaza — named after Wise, a veteran who donated the land. 

“They had been looking for a home for their Legion for some years,” said Jennifer Ford, event and communications coordinator for the Path of Honor memorial dedication. “At the same time the Wind River Development Fund was looking to revitalize the area.”

Once the business center was built, Lyle Wadda of Post #81 mounted a new effort to create a memorial on the site. Wadda and organizers raised roughly $300,000 to build the memorial, Ford said.

A member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer group that supports veterans, wipes away a tear during the Aug. 12, 2021 dedication ceremony. (Kirk Rasmussen/WyoFile)

It has long been held that Native Americans serve in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic group.  

“So there is a strong, long history of veteran service in most of these communities, and what [memorial organizers] wanted to do was create a tangible, permanent space where that can be celebrated,” Ford said.

More than 1,000 Wind River Indian Reservation service members and their families submitted names dating from before World War I through the present for publication in a website associated with the memorial.

Veteran Kassel Weeks listens to a speaker during the Aug. 12, 2021 dedication ceremony for the Path of Honor Wind River Veterans Memorial in Fort Washakie. (Kirk Rasmussen/WyoFile)

Designed by Wyoming artist Jon Cox, the memorial features four large stones representing different eras of service. Portraits of veterans have been etched onto the stones, along with quotes. The stones’ orientation aligns with traditional seasons and symbolism. When looked at from a certain angle, the stones create a buffalo. A red path winds through them; red symbolizes courage and commitment in many Native American cultures. 

The Path of Honor is the first Native American veterans memorial in Wyoming, though on Thursday honor was paid to any and all who have served. Tribal leaders, Gov. Mark Gordon and several veterans spoke.

Riverton Chief of Police Eric Murphy holds a Path of Honor Wind River Veterans Memorial hat during the Aug. 12, 2021 dedication ceremony. The hats were given out to all veterans in attendance. (Kirk Rasmussen/WyoFile)

John St. Clair, chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council and a Vietnam veteran, detailed several Native war heroes’ achievements. 

“Major General Lee Gilstrap, who trained 2,000 Natives for World War I, stated — and I’m quoting, these are not my own words: ‘The Indian is the best damn soldier in the Army,’” he said.

Commander of American Legion Post #96 Felicia Antelope said it felt “like a dream” to see the memorial realized. “It’s really nice to see something that is there, it’s physical, and you can look at it, you can touch it. And you look at the names and you can remember who served.”

Veterans stand in formation following a rifle salute during the Aug. 12, 2021 dedication ceremony for the Path of Honor Wind River Veterans Memorial. (Kirk Rasmussen/WyoFile)

John Wadda, the vice commander of American Legion Post #81, reminded the audience of what service can cost.  

“The thing I really want to stress to the veterans here is, you know, wherever you served, whether it was combat or peacetime, or wherever you were stationed, just always remember you left part of yourself there,” Wadda said. “You thought you came back in one piece, but you didn’t.

“Just remember veterans, you gotta honor yourself, pat yourself on the back, remember if you’re feeling kind of down, this memorial’s over here,” Wadda said. “That’s what it’s there for, for you to go over and walk through it. Look at it, sit down and think.”

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CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct Eric Murphy’s name.

Katie Klingsporn

Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic...

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4 Comments

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  1. A long time coming for a well deserved memorial. May all Americans come to the realization that it is veterans such as these who made the sacrifices to ensure our Freedoms. To all our Patriots, we owe you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. May this memorial bring you peace and healing. Thank you.

  2. This is a wonderful story.
    We should be grateful to these heroes every day.
    I am glad they have a place to remember friends and meditate.
    More importantly, it has taken far too long for this to happen.
    Thank you for your service and sacrifices.
    You have our humble gratitude.

  3. Good story. I’ve seen this slowly go up the past few months. Now that it’s complete, I’m looking forward to seeing it in full.