As Veterans Day approaches, friends and family of military personnel may be searching for meaningful ways to honor the veterans in their lives and communities. This year’s holiday, which marks the centennial of the first observance of the former Armistice Day in 1919, is also a reminder of the generations of veterans who have long since passed and the importance of preserving their legacies for future generations.
Thanks to an ongoing project spearheaded by UC Riverside Distinguished Professor Allison Hedge Coke, a trove of information about the veterans interred at the Riverside National Cemetery is now available online in a range of formats accessible to visitors of all ages.
Part of the nationwide Veterans Legacy Program established by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Along the Chaparral: Memorializing the Enshrined is a collaborative, wide-ranging initiative involving UCR faculty, graduate students, and advanced undergraduate students, in cooperation with area K-12 schools. The project seeks to commemorate and document the histories of veterans interred at Riverside National Cemetery with a variety of media including hundreds of K-12 student-researched and generated veterans’ stories, an interactive GIS map of the cemetery featuring stories of those interred, several live performances, and a print anthology, among others.
The resulting project website, which continues to expand, provides an array of resources and media that can enhance the knowledge and appreciation for former service members on Veterans Day and beyond.
One such resource, first made available earlier this year, is a series of documentary vignettes narrated by loved ones, which pay tribute to interred veterans. These films were directed by Hedge Coke and filmed by cinematographer Shane Brown.
James Mateo Guidangen Jr., a petty officer third class in the U.S. Navy and Filipino immigrant who helped rescue refugees at sea, is among those profiled. His daughter Jalyn Barnard, a lead teacher for Along the Chaparral from Martin Luther King Jr. High School, said he joined the armed forces because, “being part of the military was a great way to be American.” Also included is Joe Morris Sr., a corporal in the Marines who served as a Navajo code talker during World War II and whose family was charged with designing an emblem for the headstones of Native American veterans.
“The individual tribute film shorts are living testimonials by family members who know well the impact of the life before and after service, who know who this person was as an individual and as a family member, or friend,” said Hedge Coke. “These films work to enhance the legacy of the whole of the person, as a human being, and bring us details of their lives that represent more than meets the eye passing by a national cemetery. They humanize the interred and bring them to life, adding depth and perception to the memorialization and ensuring their memory carries on.”
Riverside County is home to the nation’s eighth-largest population of veterans and has a robust history of military participation. With the acquisition of 315 additional acres in February — bringing its total acreage to more than 1,200 — Riverside National Cemetery is now both the largest national cemetery managed by the National Cemetery Administration and the nation’s most active, interring roughly 8,000 veterans and family members each year. In addition to servicing Inland-area veterans, Riverside National Cemetery is also the closest cemetery to Los Angeles. The Los Angeles National Cemetery was closed to new burials for casketed remains in 1978.
Susan Straight, a distinguished professor of creative writing and one of the project’s co-principal investigators, said her father-in-law, a Marine veteran, is buried at the Riverside National Cemetery along with his wife as well as her stepbrother, who served in Vietnam.
“I've been so honored to participate in Along the Chaparral with Allison Hedge Coke, students and crew,” Straight said. “I visit the cemetery with my family often, and leave tributes, along with thousands of others. For Along the Chaparral, I spoke about my family for a video, and I'm grateful that the project allows others to add their memories of loved veterans and wives and families to the narrative.”
Along with the tribute videos, Hedge Coke also produced a video documenting the making of Along the Chaparral, which demonstrates the scope of the project and the impact it has had connecting youth with their community. Several of the students participating in the project wrote about family members who are interred.
“When we research the lives within this site, we discern a gigantic swath of engagement between Riverside, Riverside County, the Inland Empire, California, and literally the world,” said Hedge Coke. “This veteran and veteran-dependent population interred at Riverside National Cemetery offers a trove of historic and contemporary life with relationships to the surrounding community and the film chronicles our work to chronicle lives with a multigenerational impact.”
The importance of this project is not lost on the students. In a statement about his experience as one of the now-more than 3,000 K-12 students who have participated in Along the Chaparral, student Michael Grande makes clear why celebrating holidays such as Veterans Day and preserving the legacy of veterans is vital: “From this project, I learned that so many veterans’ stories aren’t being told or remembered and that if we aren’t careful, they could be forgotten.”
Along the Chaparral: Memorializing the Enshrined - 2019 Closing Celebration
A celebration of the completion of the second year of Along the Chaparral will be held from 6-7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Culver Center of the Arts. The event, hosted by Co-Principal Investigators Wesley Leonard and Michelle Raheja, will include updates on results, sample screening of resulting documentaries, a GIS update on selection of stories produced by participating K-12 students, a live performance, and the release of a print anthology featuring over 100 K-12 student tributes.
This event is free and open to the public. For more information, please visit the Along the Chaparral event page.
About Along the Chaparral: Memorializing the Enshrined
Along the Chaparral: Memorializing the Enshrined is part of the nationwide, federally funded Veterans Legacy Program implemented by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The project began in 2018, and after a successful pilot year, received additional funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration to continue through the end of 2020.
To date, over 3,000 K-12 students from in Riverside Unified School District, Beaumont Unified School District, and Sherman Indian School have participated in the project.
Project outputs in 2019 included the production of nine documentary films, six live student performances, and roughly 500 additional student stories populated into the interactive GIS web app mapping the Riverside National Cemetery, with roughly 1,000 student-generated stories now available.
A print anthology featuring the work of over 100 K-12 students and a new radio play will also be released this month.
Along with Hedge Coke, the project’s principal investigator, UCR co-principal investigators include: Emily Rapp Black, assistant professor of creative writing; Katie Ford, professor of creative writing; Wesley Leonard, assistant professor of ethnic studies; Keun-Pyo Park, professor of directing and film production; Michelle Raheja, associate professor of English; Jonathan Ritter, associate professor of music; Susan Straight, professor of creative writing; and Clifford Trafzer, distinguished professor of history and Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs.
For more information about the project, links to all features, and full list of partners, visit the Along the Chaparral website.