Montana Veterans Memorial Association Hosts Memorial Day Ceremony

On a cold, overcast afternoon in May, veterans and community members gathered in Great Falls to honor those who gave their lives in the line of duty.

“The eight bells at the start of today’s ceremony were rung not only as a warrior tradition of the United States Navy to honor a fallen sailor, but to set the tone for all the branches we have come here to honor,” said the emcee and the U.S. Navy. veteran and former television personality Art Taft.

Keynote speaker Bishop Marcus Collins, a US Air Force veteran, spoke about the history of the holiday, which native after the Civil War as “Declaration Day”. In 1868, during the first national commemoration, 5,000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 soldiers, both Union and Confederate, following what was then the deadliest war in the history of the States. -United.

Bishop Marcus Collins of the Church of God in Christ was the keynote speaker at the Memorial Day ceremony.

“This ceremony, what it does, unifies us as Americans, whether we’re Democrats, whether we’re Republicans, whether we’re men, whether we’re women, whether we’re Catholic or Protestant, we’re the recipients of those who came before us as heroes and gave their lives for this country,” Collins said.

Professor Marvin Weatherwax, Sr. spoke in remembrance of Chief Earl Old Person, America’s oldest elected tribal representative who died in October 2021, and all Blackfeet veterans who served. Weatherwax, Sr. teaches Blackfeet language and culture at Blackfeet Community College and is a United States Army Veteran.

“I have a list of things Earl has done and accomplishments throughout his life, but the list I had didn’t fit in the back of my truck, so I brought one more. small,” said Weatherwax Sr.

Professor Marvin Weatherwax, Sr. and members of the Blackfeet Veterans Honor Guard pay their respects to Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person during the Memorial Day ceremony.

At the age of 25, in 1954, Old Person was elected in his first term as a Tribal Council member. Old Person became president 10 years later and held the position for 34 years. In the 1970s, Old Person served as president of the National Congress of American Indians, where he served on a committee that founded the nation’s first tribal-owned bank. In 1978 Old Person earned perhaps his proudest title when he became Chief of the Blackfeet Nation.

After:What did Chief Earl Old Person mean to the members of the Blackfeet tribe? Here is what they said

Old Person was a leading advocate for access to higher education. Although he never attended college himself, Old Person holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Montana. In 1993, Old Person delivered the first State of the Indian Nation Address to the Montana State Legislature in Helena.

Weatherwax sang in honor of Old Person and concluded with a line he said Old Person has always said, “People are the most important, when they come to you you have to recognize them.” We are never too big.

Montana Veterans Memorial President Starnell Darko receives a blanket from a member of the Blackfeet Nation during the Memorial Day Ceremony held Monday at the Montana Veterans Memorial.

“Although the Chief was not himself a veteran, his spiritual and moral leadership represented the warrior values ​​honoredly reflected in Blackfoot veterans and an inspiration to all Indian Country veterans who served “, Taft said in his introduction.

Montana Veterans Memorial Former President Michael Winters receives a blanket from a member of the Blackfeet Nation during the Memorial Day ceremony held Monday at the Montana Veterans Memorial.

Spokespersons from the offices of the two U.S. senators in Montana took turns saying each of the U.S. wars that was followed by the ringing of a bell.

The Montana Veterans Memorial bell rang once for every American war during the Memorial Day ceremony held on Monday.

Montana Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras was in attendance, seated in the front row as her sons participated in the ceremony as members of the Vocal Patriots. She said she was there to honor her late uncle, Captain William Wylie Galt, a Medal of Honor recipient who died during World War II.

City Commissioner Joe McKenney and County Commissioner James Larson, both U.S. Navy veterans, attended the ceremonies Monday afternoon.

The Vocal Patriots sang both “God Bless America” ​​and the national anthem. The Great Falls Municipal Band played the Armed Forces Medley and Jesse Callender of the Great Falls Shrine Pipe Band performed “Bagpipe Salute”.

Members of the Marine Corps League stand as the Great Falls Municipal Band plays the Marine Corps Anthem during the Memorial Day Ceremony held at the Montana Veterans Memorial.

The invocation and blessing prayers were led by Capt. Christopher Pitts, Malmstrom Air Force Base Chaplain, with the Malmstrom Honor Guard leading the presentation of the colors.

Members of the Boy Scouts of America lead the audience during the Pledge of Allegiance at the Memorial Day Ceremony held Monday at the Montana Veterans Memorial.

The Montana Veterans Memorial will be closed for construction beginning June 1 to replace more than 4,000 square feet of concrete that was shifting due to an unstable base, according to a news release Monday.

Repairs are overseen by TD&H Engineering, Missouri River Trucking and Excavating, Liberty Electric and Architect Gene Davidson.

Montana Veterans Memorial Association President Starnell Darko said those interested in viewing the memorial during construction can do so online at and said updates will be posted on the group Facebook page. The association welcomes donations to cover construction costs.

The next scheduled ceremony at the Montana Veterans Memorial will take place on Veterans Day on November 11, 2022.

Andrew B. Reiter