As are many things in Clifton and the rest of Greenlee County, it is unique.

There is nothing quite like the Mares Bluff All-Veterans Memorial perched high above Clifton. Its purpose is to heal and to cleanse.

Flags from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and U.S. Merchant Marines, a POW-MIA banner and an Hermanos de Vietnam flag flutter in the constant breeze beside the American and Arizona state flags.

The memorial's origin lies in Los Hermanos de Vietnam Club (Brothers of Vietnam).

The memorial features wire cables on which are hung replica dog tags representing around 1,700 veterans. They represent male and female veterans, combat and non-combat, from all over the United States.

The tags have the veteran's name, branch of service, era of service and whether the veteran is living or deceased. Those currently serving in the military can also have their dog tag replicas included at the memorial.

Special tribute is given to those from Greenlee County who were KIA or MIA (killed in action or missing in action).

Plaques with their names have been placed along different points on the challenging trail. The first plaque that visitors see is dedicated to those who fought and died in World War I. The trail progresses to World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War plaques.

Greenlee County did not lose anyone in the Gulf War but Los Hermanos adopted 12 KIAs from that war. They were the first three men and first three American women killed in the Gulf. They also adopted the first three women and first three men from Arizona killed in that war.

The memorial's first dog tag installation ceremony was held in December 1999. A banner headline in Greenlee County's newspaper, The Copper Era, declared "Vets fly eight flags over Mares Bluff." That appeared in January 2000 after the second ceremony. Nine flags now fly with the inclusion of the merchant marine flag in 2002.

Several installation ceremonies have since been held. One of the most unique occurred in July 2002 when World War II Navy combat veteran William Jack Adams was flown atop the bluff by helicopter.

Los Hermanos worked with the Arizona Department of Public Safety to provide a DPS chopper. Adams is partially paralyzed from a stroke he suffered.

The trail to the bluff begins in Ward's Canyon. It is challenging and those not in top physical condition are advised to take it slow and easy. A sign at the trailhead warns anyone with heart or other major medical conditions not to make the climb. For those in moderately good or good condition, the climb takes 15 minutes to one-half hour.

A few local women in their 80s, with the help of Los Hermanos escorts, have made the climb. They took their time.

The idea for the memorial came from a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam. Club members say the idea was born of a vision he had.

Veterans and members of the community began hauling pipe, water, cement and other materials up the steep climb. It involved a tremendous amount of effort. Work included improving the trail. The project received an outpouring of community support.

The bluff is named after the family which owns the bluff and whose family members are veterans.

Club members point to the memorial's uniqueness in that it honors all U.S. veterans. Many memorials honor those who fell in combat. The Hermanos say while that is certainly appropriate, recognition should also be given to all who have served and are now serving.

Local veterans are adamant people focus on the memorial's purpose and no single individual or organization.

Veterans say the greatest purpose of the memorial is for healing and cleansing. It is a place where people can reflect.

Many have said the memorial heals because those who visit it leave part of themselves there. Many veterans who have attended installation ceremonies have said they feel as if they've been relieved of a burden or bondage from the past.

Countless tears of relief from combat-hardened veterans have fallen on the unlandscaped pebbles, dirt, cactus and brush that are part of the memorial.

Veterans and non-veterans have said that by touching a loved one's dog tag, whether that person died 30, 40 or 50 years ago, they felt close to that person again.

People have also had dog tags of famous veterans they admired included in the memorial. Among those are U.S. President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Senator John McCain, and musicians Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley. Hendrix, a paratrooper, and Presley were in the army. Kennedy saw combat in the navy in WW II and McCain, a fighter pilot, was shot down over Vietnam and spent several years as a POW.

Anyone wanting information on the memorial or wishing to have replicas of their dog tags or those of a relative or friend placed on Mares Bluff, should contact Mike Guzzo at the Foxhole (Maud's Restaurant), (928) 865-5551. Cost of each tag is $3.

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