Legacy of Military Service Honored in District 5 for Community Veteran
October 20, 2023
Gila River Indian News
Forty years after his passing, Abraham B. Nelson, District 5, received a traditional memorial with military honors on Monday, Oct. 9. The small ceremony drew family members, Haskell Osife-Antone American Legion Post 51, GRIC Veterans & Family Services Office (VFSO), and Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis to honor the occasion.
Abraham’s remaining family in attendance included grandchildren Edmond Carl Nelson, Stanton “Paul” Nelson, Contra “Connie” Holt, Cheryl Thomas, and Lawrence “Larry” Nelson, Sr. Their families were also present to honor Abraham’s memory.
“Today is heavy on my heart and means a lot because this will be the last, final good thing I can do for my grandfather,” said Larry Nelson, Sr.
Larry resides in Montana and has worked with his wife to retrieve his grandfather’s military records over the past two years with various government entities. His family recalls seeing an old photo of their grandfather in uniform, rifle in hand and at attention, but doesn’t remember Abraham ever discussing his military service with the family.
After obtaining Abraham’s military records and confirming his service, the family contacted the VFSO. From that point forward, the VFSO staff worked with the Nelson family to plan an official memorial with military honors in Abraham’s recognition.
“It took years for us to retrieve his records but once we did, we realized my grandfather was buried without honors. So from that point we began to work with VFSO to give my grandfather the honors he deserves,” said Larry Nelson, Sr.
VFSO’s significant assistance yielded the cost of the headstone placement, presentation of the “Burial” Flag to the family, and a 21-gun salute for the memorial.
During the ceremony, Vah-Ki Presbyterian church members shared hymns for guests including one sung in the traditional O’otham language. A prayer and address was provided by David Stewart. Lawrence Nelson’s wife, Misala Peo-Nelson (Nez Perce / Umatilla), a member of the Native American Women Warriors organization, also presented the family with commemorative dog tags on this day.
Abraham B. Nelson, born Jan. 8, 1892, was an active member of the Community and his district. Widely regarded in District 5, Nelson maintained a strong presence there due to his dedication and service to the Vah-Ki Presbyterian Church, where he also served as a deacon.
Later in life, Abraham would serve in the US Army in May of 1915 during the Mexican Border War, stationed at the US-Mexico border. During his service, he served in the CO F 1st Infantry Artillery Unit until the conflict ended in 1919.
Like many Native American service members, Abraham would serve at a time before Native Americans were granted citizenship in 1924. Larry cites this as a measure of his grandfather’s character as being “willing to pick up a rifle and defend a country that doesn’t see him as a citizen.” Larry and his family are proud of Abraham’s dedication to his Community and to the country.
Prior to the memorial, Governor Lewis directed tribal staff to fly the US flag at half-mast at the GRIC Governance Center in honor of Abraham’s service.
During his remarks, Gov. Lewis also mentioned that Abraham lived alongside Chief Antonio Azul and served when the US was in conflict with Mexican forces, including Pancho Villa.
“We, as a Community, have a long history of honoring our veterans throughout time. Today, 40 years later, we are still honoring those that gave to this country and for those that paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to this nation,” said Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis.