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Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center

 

War Veteran’s Calling: Honoring the Fallen and He

Arnie Holt

Arnie Holt

By Bret Bowers, Public Affairs Officer
Friday, July 29, 2016

Vietnam War Combat Veteran Arnie Holt’s respect for others is easy to see. He has a vision, a personal mission, and he remains dedicated to them both.  He’s compelled to honor all Veterans during Honor Guard tributes at military funerals, where Holt formally presents a “roll call” depicting each Veteran’s service, military awards, duty stations and special assignments – as a compliment to the traditional grave-side service. 

Quite often, he and his Brothers in Arms will travel and perform multiple services in a single day.  But that’s only part of the honor he offers his fellow Veterans and their families.  The other mission is his profound and powerful traveling museum that he started about 10-years ago, and continues to grow.  Holt has acquired hundreds of items that immediately spark memories of a time this country wasn’t so proud of.  But he still is.  His memorabilia from the Vietnam War immediately elicits strong emotions for some. “I see the tears in their eyes,” he said.  “Sometimes they’ll simply shake my hand, make a donation, or thank me.  But I’ve also watched people begin to look, only to walk out because of the pain it reminds them of.”  

Holt’s living and traveling museum is priceless.  He has war memories for all to see, feel, and hear, complimented by music that captivated tens of thousands at Woodstock and sounds of Hollywood movie scenes depicting America’s cultural indifference towards the Vietnam War and the political unrest that dominated the 1960’s and early 1970’s. From 1968-’69 Arnie Holt at 19-years old (seen at right), served in the jungles of Vietnam as a member of the 101st Airborne Division.  Many know now that his generation of Veterans didn’t receive a hero’s welcome home. 

After he received an Honorable Discharge and returned stateside, he recalls walking 12-miles along a highway, in uniform, and nobody stopped to offer him a ride home.  He wanted to put the war behind him and didn’t want any of his own military memories, until one day, when he simply flipped the lid open on a zippo lighter and the vivid memories of Vietnam began rushing their way back into his conscience. His own mother had saved his medals, uniforms and artifacts, as if she knew that one day, they would serve a valuable purpose again.  She was right. 

Arnie, once a high school drop-out turned school counselor and mentor, found his purpose to no longer allow the pain of Vietnam define him, the military, or his country.  He even chose to put the uniform on again with the U.S. Navy, where once again, he served with distinction.  Today, he serves Veterans and their families as the founder and curator of the Nativeveteran museum, a traveling museum and tribute to all Veterans, but especially those who served in Vietnam.

“Nativeteran museum is intended to start the healing process among Veterans suffering with PTSD and educate the public and youth about Veterans,” Holt says.  “I’m displaying history – as real as it gets and I can’t let history die.  Yes, sometimes I do feel guilty about surviving when so many others didn’t, or they came home and are still suffering from their own scars and the pain of war.” He spends hours meticulously unpacking, displaying, and re-packing the artifacts.  Yet, he doesn’t blink an eye when Veterans will pick-up and hold a weapon, try on a helmet, or simply read poems and clippings with tears streaming down their face. 

He’s traveled to the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. and traced the names of fallen friends who gave the ultimate sacrifice and are forever enshrined on the Wall. Whether the memorabilia is on display in a school, convention center, or within a jungle green military tent at an event, the view is unique, because most of it is not behind glass and untouchable. Arnie encourages visitors to spend time admiring the tools used in war, the people who fought, and those who did, but didn’t come home. The items, including an M-60 machine gun and other weapons, monuments for the fallen, medals, newspaper clippings, uniforms, bayonets, ammo boxes, goes on and on.  There are hundreds of artifacts, many given to him by Veterans and their families entrusting Holt with their treasures.  They know that Arnie is already succeeding with his compassionate mission. 

The Nativeteran museum has been on display during many events throughout the Pacific Northwest, in Omak, WA, Portland, Spokane, Coulee Dam, Vancouver, WA and many schools in between. Eventually Holt wants to find a permanent location and making it a destination that Veterans, families and vacationers will see as a “must see” along their journey. Meantime, he and his fellow members of the Colville Tribe’s Honor Guard continue to honor Veterans.  Each were formally recognized in front of dozens of Veterans and agency representatives attending a July 2016 Tribal Veterans Summit in Omak, WA, sponsored by the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations, and supported by the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane.

Holt keeps a sign-in book for Veterans and guests who see and appreciate his Nativeteran museum.  He also has countless comment cards from all those who admire his display and Honor Guard duties during military funerals. Without hesitation, Holt honors all Veterans as “Warriors” whether they’re of American Indian heritage or not. Back in 2012, after staging his traveling museum during the annual American Indian Veteran Advisory Council’s Memorial & Honoring Ceremony for all Veterans (held on the second Saturday of September at the VA Medical Center in Spokane, WA), one mayor in Washington State, Ms. Cindy Gagne wrote, “thank you for inviting me.  It was a beautiful ceremony and it was my pleasure to be in attendance!” Another admirer from witnessing the Honor Guard service, Sandra Partridge writes, “On behalf of my family, please accept our deepest thanks for all you did to honor the memory of my father, Herman Jensen. 

The ceremony, especially the roll-call, moved me to tears and gave me at least a glimpse into the brotherhood of fellow warriors.  I know now what an Honor Guard really means.  Bless you for taking the time to do this, especially on Father’s Day weekend.” Holt himself watched his own son, John L. Holt enlist in the Marine Corps and eventually deploy to Iraq.  Thankfully he too made it back and will likely one day, end up overseeing the Nativeteran museum which has become his Father’s legacy.  “I thank God for his safe return after walking the warrior’s path,” Arnie smiled.  “I still pray for our troops who are currently serving our country.”

Holt now resides at Coulee Dam, WA and is retired from the Colville Confederated Tribe’s Veteran’s Program where he made so many friends as Program Manager over the years.  Arnie Holt also recently became an honorary member of the U.S. Army’s First Cavalry Division.  His Nativeteran.com project is a state licensed non-profit organization. “It’s an honor and a privilege for me to help other warriors begin their healing journey.  Our Veterans deserve a place of honor that tells their story and the battles they fought.”

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