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July/August 2023 -   -  


The Vietnam War Veteran Who Created the National Native American Veterans Memorial

Harvey Pratt had a vision.

A renowned artist, sculptor, and Vietnam War veteran, Pratt had learned in 2017 that the National Museum of the American Indian was accepting submissions for a National Native American Veterans Memorial to be built outside the museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

When a friend and fellow Cheyenne Arapaho tribal member suggested he submit a design, Pratt’s first thought was not to bother, thinking that one probably had been chosen, and, if not, his would get lost among thousands of submissions.

But his friend insisted he submit something “for the tribe, for the people,” Pratt said, “And I said, ‘Let me dream about it.”

His grandfather, who helped raise him, told the children, “We’re dreamers. We dream stuff and something comes to you. Visions come to you in dreams, so dream about stuff,” Pratt said during his VVA Veteran Dispatches interview that went live on vvaveteran.org on May 29.

The vision came that night — a tall, stainless-steel circle balanced on a carved stone drum. With the circle representing, as Pratt put it, “the hole in the sky where the Creator lives.”

After he awoke, Pratt immediately made “a couple of little sketches.” When he showed them to his wife, Gina, she said, “That looks pretty good, you need to develop that.”

Which he did, creating a more detailed sketch, which — at the suggestion of his son Nathan, also an artist — he then had animated. Soon thereafter Pratt submitted the drawing and animation electronically of his “Warriors’ Circle of Honor” memorial, hitting “send” a half hour before the deadline.

“There were 524 submissions from people from all over the world,” he said. “They narrowed it down to 120, and then the final five. We went to Washington and made final presentations before the committees.”

Then Harvey Pratt — who will receive the Excellence in the Arts Award at the 2023 National Convention in Orlando — got the call that would change his life. “They said, ‘Harvey, we have some good news and some bad news. What do you want first?’ I said, ‘Give me the good news.’ He said, ‘The good news is you won and the bad news is, now you gotta do it.’ ”

“Do it,” meaning (among many other things) helping develop architectural designs, choosing the type of stone and metal for the memorial, how exactly to incorporate the key themes, “the water, the fire, the earth and the air,” into the memorial, and how to manage “the water coming out what I called the drum.”



When the day came for determining the exact location for the memorial at the northeast corner of the museum’s grounds, Pratt and a large team of architects, consultants, curators, and museum officials walked the area, still unsure of the perfect spot. As they did so, “a big Red-tailed Hawk came sailing in out of the southwest and landed right there on that area where we were going to choose,” Pratt said.

“He hopped all around, then flew up into a tree above the Path of Life [walkway leading to the memorial] and he stayed there. There’s forty of us walking around, and he just stayed there watching us.

“Everybody said, ‘That’s a great omen.’ And I said, ‘That’s my grandfather.’ My grandfather’s Indian name was Redtail Hawk. He came to see what we were doing and to bless what we were doing. We always ask our ancestors to be with us and to remind us of what we’re doing and that we’re doing things in the right way. And I said, ‘He came to be with us.’ ”

After the group left that fateful day, Pratt said, "the hawk would show up periodically, and he would sit on the trees and on the building. And then another hawk came with him, and I said, ‘That’s my brother’ because he took his grandpa’s Indian name. Their spirits are here to watch us. And they say they show up all the time, and they sit in the tree and on the building. Sometimes even on the steel circle.”


DA NANG, 1963-64  

Harvey Pratt, 82, left college and joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1962. He volunteered for guerrilla warfare training and was shipped to South Vietnam in the early stages of U.S. involvement. He served with the 3rd Marine Division in Military Police at the Da Nang Air Base.

“For the first nine months, I filled thousands and thousands of sandbags, and we also guarded the base and the airfield,” he said. He also took part in operations outside the wire. On those missions, he said, “90 percent of the time I didn’t know where I was. They would just put us in a helicopter and fly us off.”

The war in Da Nang during the 1963-64 tour was “coming on,” he said. “Initially, there were no threats to the base, then more actions around the base, probings and stuff. We captured a sapper who got onto the airfield one time. He was getting in one of the helicopters, and we found some explosives around the perimeter.


“They stored a lot of Agent Orange and fuel” on the enormous base. “Almost everyone in my unit came home with cancer.”

After his Marine Corps service, in 1965, Pratt began a long, distinguished career in law enforcement, starting with the Midwest City, Oklahoma, Police Department. He joined the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in 1972 as a narcotics investigator and forensic artist, and retired in 1992 as an Assistant Director, specializing in witness description drawing, skull reconstruction and tracing, and age progression.

His own artistic work includes themes of Native American history and traditions and the Cheyenne people, and he is recognized by the Cheyenne as a traditional Peace Chief — the Cheyenne Nation’s highest honor. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2021 and the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2019.

As for his stunning National Native American Veterans Memorial, Harvey Pratt says: “We invite all veterans to come and be blessed and to tie a prayer cloth. People come to pray, burn things, feed the spirits, tie prayer cloths, and to sing and dance. Hawaiians come and place leis. It’s really a moving experience to see.”




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