American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center
More Indian Voices From Vietnam [a machine-readable transcription]
By Robert Sanderson, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Figure 1. "Relief Map of Vietnam - Courtesy of The General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin."
By Harold Barse
My name is Harold Barse. Iím a member of the Kiowa/Wichita Sioux tribe; currently counseling with the Vet Center. Iíve been with the Vet Center program since its inception. By working through the program has allowed me to go ahead and develop this organization that puts on this powwow annually. Thatís how we got started.
I was trying to deliver the Vet Center services with the Cheyenne/Arapaho in Oklahoma. I was taking the traditional vet center approach, so I started rapping with these guys; helping to take care of their problems, cuz I know they got problems. I spent some time and energy out there trying to get something started. Finally, they asked me what I was trying to do. I said Iím trying to help you all with your problems. They let me know that they were Cheyennes, that they went over there to that war for a purpose. They had a reason to go. The reason was they were Cheyenne. And thatís all the reason they ever needed, and that they take care of their problems in a different way. That they donít go to these types of things, they donít go to counseling, and they donít seek out the VA psychological services. At that point, I said Iím going to have to find something that I can help the American Indian vets. I put my head together with a few other guys and we decided to organize locally in Oklahoma; a warrior society for Vietnam vets. Something that Indians can identify with. It didnít take long before the organization spilled out beyond the boundaries of Oklahoma because we were the only organization specifically for American Indian Vietnam vets. From that point it just began to grow. In February of í81, I organized a powwow in the Wichita Tribal Park. It was the first time any powwow had been organized specifically to honor Vietnam vets. We had a very good reception. From that point we used that date as a starting day of organization. Within a year, in í82, we talked about putting on a powwow in Oklahoma again to honor Vietnam vets, and this powwow grew in magnitude. We ended up calling it the National Vietnam Vetsí Powwow and we held it in December of í82. What happened at this powwow was so moving, so healing that we knew we had to do it again. Itís a unique powwow; itís not a stationary powwow. Itís in South Dakota this year; moves to Arizona next year, and itís back up in Wisconsin the following year. It was such a powerful thing and so many vets found relief from some of the symptoms that Vietnam vets are known to suffer, that we felt like we needed to keep on trying to do this. And, itís grown every year. This will be the largest we ever attempted to do here with the Sioux nations, cuz weíre talking about an entire Sioux nation, not just one tribe or local. The Chippewas from Minnesota are coming in, and the Menominee and carloads from Oklahoma are coming up. Itís really grown. Obviously, there is a need for it or else we would have never had a second, third or fourth one.
Being that they donít take advantage of the other services the vet centers provide, you find a lot of the Vietnam vets are returning to their traditional ways to get relief from what they describe as the problems so many Vietnam vets suffer. In turning back to these ways, this is one way they can highlight it. Indian people have always respected their vets. Itís never made any difference with the politics of the war. They recognize these people who have done a sacrifice for them. You canít confuse Indian patriotism with your regular American-type patriotism (mom, apple pie, and things like this); the American Indian doesnít view it that way. When they serve, they are serving for their people. And that [service to the community is what] they do it for. And Indians recognize this. So when they come home, they come home with honor and dignity. Not like many of the non-Indians who came home to the outright hostility. Yet that does not keep you from having the problems; Indians are human beings, too. Traumatic events are traumatic for us as well as for a non-Indian. The only thing Indian people do [is that] they recognize this. Indian people have recognized that war changes people; for centuries, and centuries, and centuries they have know this. So when you send a person to war, something happens to him out there. Theyíve got generally two perspectives. The Sioux people and the people youíll see here are warrior tribes. Warfare is a natural outlet for them. But when we go to Arizona, youíll see a group of tribes where war is an aberration. Itís a disruption of the law. Itís something to be avoided at all costs. So when you do have to send people to war, these people have been tainted; they have been changed. And they need a cleansing of some kind to be brought back into the tribal community. And the Navajo and some of these other tribes have these things.
They recognize some of these people have been changed, too, and to bring them back into harmony with the community, there are special ceremonies that cleanse them of this taint. To be a person that has been exposed to warfare and killing and spilled the blood of strange people, back into that community would be disruptive for that community. So theyíre cleansed. They are not held in low esteem; they are recognized that the people did something that is completely against the law of the universe. They stepped into total turmoil; disruption. And they did this for their people. They gave up something for their community. And when they bring them back in, they need to be taken care of and they are also honored.
Even with those vastly different contradicting views of warfare, one is natural extension: the Sioux people have always been kind of warlike; itís a place to demonstrate bravery and count coup and you get honor, yet the people recognize that something happens to them. So the Sioux have a healing ceremony--the sweat lodges--to help take care of their people when they come back, cuz they know there is going to be those associated problems when you expose an individual to a traumatic event. The warrior tribes help take care of them by giving them much honor and respect. The Winnebago people say that we honor these vets because by seeing death on the battlefield, they truly know the greatness of life. Theyíve sacrificed something. So these people are taken care of. Those Vietnam vets that are available can take advantage of these things. Approximately half the Indian population lives in urban areas. The Vietnam generation is the first generation that was born and reared in the metropolitan areas. Our fathers and mothers left the reservation and went to these areas, and then they raised their families up there. So many of us, myself included; Iím an urban Indian. Iím not anymore at home out in the woods than anyone else brought up in an urban environment. Thereís a lot of Indians out there, like myself, who donít have access to the traditional concepts of their own tribes and stuff. And these guys may be more susceptible to the problems that Vietnam vets are suffering. Indian people know they are going to have these problems; they have a way of helping them make the readjustment back into their society.
Different tribes have different beliefs. You can have a prayer meeting; being thankful that your son is back. A lot of families will do that through a regular Indian chant of some kind. You can have a peyote meeting, either to send the young man off to war or to bring him home. Some tribes still have the bulletproofing ceremony to send their people off. All societies recognize this, if you are going to send some off to war, there is an unwritten contract that you are going to bring these people home with honor and respect. And it always happens, even with this country, except with the Vietnam. In World War One, World War Two, and even the Korean War, these people were honored. But the Vietnam War was so much different. The frustration; the country was being torn apart by the divisiveness of the war. Its frustration fell upon the Vietnam vet himself. They turned out to be the bad guys. They broke that sacred unwritten contract that they have when they send people away. This country broke that contract; thatís why there is the magnitude of problems among the Vietnam vets and why the problems have persisted so long. Cuz these people have never been allowed to make the readjustment. They have been made to feel ashamed of being a Vietnam vet. And the Indian people go 180 degrees different; they emphasize the fact that these are very special people. And thatís what we do here. Instead of having a dance for all vets, we have opted to have it for the Vietnam vets. Hopefully, the people we are having here in Sisseton will be in a healing process. Some of those wounds that are still open will be taken care of, that the circle will once again become closed. Thatís what we saw at the first powwow. Thatís what we strive for at everyone that we do now. Weíre very glad that the Sioux nation has opted to host this one. This is the first time; I guess itís only the second time that all the warriors of the Sioux nation will gather. I think the only time itís ever happened before is Little Big Horn. And this is the only time since then that itís ever happened again. Myron Williams has even said that thatís been prophesized. I donít know if this is fulfilling that prophecy, but the warriors of the Sioux nation are going to gather here this weekend. But thatís what weíve been trying to do; it has started out very small and has really snowballed on us.
The vet center program has been very receptive to our idea. They donít quite understand it. This is the first time they have actually sent counselors here to take part in the ceremony itself and to be on hand to provide counseling if thatís the need. Weíre going to disturb a lot of old memories. And somebody might need someone to talk to. Sometimes itís safer to talk to someone thatís paid to listen to those things. We have found at the past gatherings we have had that everything has been very upbeat. The guys donít spend very much time talking about things that hurt them. Talking about units served with, acts of bravery, youíll see a lot of camaraderie, guys getting together and swapping stories. Itís generally very, very upbeat, very positive.
There is a power, a medicine, and that drum will make you feel better. If youíre not feeling good and you go to the powwow and you get close to that drum it makes you feel better; it radiates something. Down in Oklahoma, we do the gourd dance; warriors kind of circle the drum. We have gourds and shakers in our hands and stuff. Everything kind of moves in a circle, and the dancers move towards the drum; they are drawing power from this. Iíve never seen it so much as when I saw it at that first powwow. Thatís the first time I ever felt the power of that drum. There were so many people you couldnít go around the drum. There was an ocean of people there. So everybody had to just turn and face the drum and they wouldnít let us stop. They were singing the Vietnam vetís song. And then you could hear the word Vietnam. There was a power there that kind of made your hair tingle. People were crying and carrying on because of the emotion of that thing. People realized that people were being healed, that all these bad things were being taken away. And these people were being appreciated for what they did. Thatís what we try to do. Itís a monumental effort every year, but it always seems to be worth it. You can talk to the guys here that are hosting it; they wonít be anxious to do it again, not right away. It takes a lot out of people.
I related our rap groups to traditional warrior societies where the returning warrior is inducted into these honor societies. And within these, there is a kind of like a rap group where these guys can talk about things only they can understand. If you havenít been to Vietnam and saw what was going on, only they have that experience, that knowledge. And when they talk, itís a healing process. They are the ones that understand what happened over there; they have to work it out among themselves. The parallel to that is of the warrior societies. The Cheyenne people of Oklahoma have a Sundance, too. At some point in the Sundance theyíll stop drum, and theyíll call forth a vet to come and tell a war story, and itís got to be a real one. You have to find a combat vet; they donít pull any punches. If they pour guts out, thatís what theyíll tell you. They tell of a hard time, a personal encounter, a one-to-one encounter with an enemy, or something that was difficult for them. In being able to tell that to a gathering of people is therapeutic, Cuz youíve got the attention of all these people and heís relating something that was very difficult for him. He was facing death. Then he is honored. They give him a rifle or blanket or something. Many of the tribes have lost what they had for their vets. Weíre lucky here in Sioux country that most of that remains intact. One of the first things that the government did when putting the Sioux on the reservation was to ban their warrior societies. Itís extremely difficult for the Sioux; thereís a portion of that is gone now. But itís going back.
Youíll find that the Sioux, the guys that have tried the vet center approach, have found that it wasnít as helpful for them as returning to their traditional ways; going to the sweat lodge and taking care of those things. They had to pay a price for being a Vietnam vet, and theyíre always going to carry this; that price is always a steep price to pay. And they are always going to have some of these things; the nightmares, etc., may be with them periodically from now on. But the sweat lodge and healing ceremonies help reduce and take care of those things. They help ease the spirits of the person.
Kiowa people take care of their vets. They are very special people. If a Kiowa boy was to die in combat and the Kiowa lost 3 boys over there, those individuals are remembered in tribal history as warrior chiefs. Theyíll always be remembered that way. The Kiowa Tribe will never forget who they are. Itís a very moving type of ceremony that they have. Iím very honored to be asked to belong to that. Cuz at one time you had to be a combat vet to dance with the black leggings. They asked me to become a part of their group, so I belong to the Black Leggings Society of the Kiowa Tribe, too. As well as being very active in this organization, I try to limit them. I donít belong to anything else; I donít belong to the legion or any other type of vet activities, just my own tribe and what weíve organized.
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According to the U.S. census, approximately 81,000 served during the era, for í64 to í75. Of that, 42,000 or so served in Vietnam; of that, the amount killed is 800 that they can document. Now the armed forces didnít ask you what you were when they drafted you. Most of the Sioux didnít get drafted; most of the Kiowa and Indians did not get drafted; they enlisted and they went in voluntarily. I was drafted. The service didnít ask what race I was. I never knew until I began working the vet center program and asked them to send for my records that I was not listed as an Indian; I was listed as Caucasian. So if I were to die in Vietnam, I would not have been listed on the Indian list; and we find a whole lot of guys that happened to. They just didnít bother to ask them, what race are you? They took a look at us, took a guess, and put it down and sent you on your way. So there is a fudge factor there. Obviously, maybe a few more Indians have been killed in combat and were not listed that way.
[The VA still does not recognize these cultural differences]. Although, I have heard talk that out West the VA was recognizing the importance of the Navajo ceremonies. They recognized that their stuff is legitimate and that they do what they are supposed to do; that they have an impact, that they get as much relief from what they have in the way of ceremony as anybody going to the VA hospital to see a psychiatrist for any type of combat-related mental disorder. There is a slow recognition; hopefully, this will become a part of some of the recognition. The VA is doing a video for us now. They were at the last yearís powwow interviewing vets and things and weíll use it as a training film when itís completed to show the VA staffs around the country. The Indian ceremony and stuff is legitimate treatment for them. And probably more applicable to the American Indian than anything they can prescribe.
* * * * *
Possibly, among American Indians, there may not have been the vagueness as to why they are going over there. You know, what are we doing here? You went over cuz weíre stopping communism. When they got over there, it wasnít so much stopping communism as it was killing Vietnamese. And with all the tremendous firepower we had, there was a question as to why we are sacrificing ourselves; especially in a political war that wonít allow you to win but only go so far. With all the restrictions on the troops in Vietnam, where the Indians may not have had that, like the Cheyennes told me, they went because they are Cheyenne and theyíre doing it for their people. There may be a more concrete reason sometimes why they had for going over, as opposed to a vague reason the non-Indian went over to this far away place and fight the jungle war. Another one is his coming home or preparing to leave. Sometimes, many of the Indian tribes had warrior dances, soldier dances, Peyote meetings, prayer meetings, feasts or something along the lines to prepare the individuals to go; the bullet proofing ceremony for some tribes. And, heís given recognition and honor when he leaves. We ran a survey and it looks like 40% of the Indians had some type of tribal recognition or feast or something going or coming home. Thatís 40% so thereís 60% that didnít have anything for themselves. Maybe the family didnít have the money to provide something like this or maybe the family was not a traditional family. If you spend too much time in the metro area, you have a tendency to lose if you donít try hard to keep your traditional ways, you get involved in the urban, that city rush. If youíre born and reared in it, pretty soon you become that. Iím a lot more comfortable with concrete under my feet that I am in the woods. And a lot of the brothers up here are traditional people. They find freedom out in the woods. They find release; they feel good when they are with nature. But a lot of us arenít that way.
The coming home will probably be the biggest difference for the Indian vet as opposed to the hostile homecoming that some of the other vets got when they got home. We found that even those non-Indian vets that came home to a good support system seemed to have fewer problems than those that came home and didnít find the support system. And the Indians, we just emphasize it a little more; itís not like a pat on the head, good job, you did great; the Indian people, the families assume some of the burden of the individual; they are there to support him. They assume some of the problems. These people out there dancing show their support; they show their love for the individual and shoulder some of the problems that he is dealing with. And in also reinforcing that contract, cuz you see a lot of our children out there with us; they see ≠≠≠whatís going on. The Indian people are reinforcing that special contract that if you should have to do this, go fight a war, should have to sacrifice, that we are going to be here for you when you get back. What we are giving to these people, we will give to you. Families are very important for what we are going to be doing here. And, hopefully, weíll get a lot of the families here to see what happens to vets cuz thereís been a lot of vets out there; trauma is trauma; human beings are human beings. If you are exposed to it you are going to suffer from it--whether you are Indian, non-Indian, Black or whatever. This is just our way of trying to bring him back and help take care of some of these problems that they are going to have.
A lot of the Indian people are institutionalized; theyíve been taken from their homes and put into boarding schools. [Boarding schools] are run kind of on military time, you live in the dorm, and it's not hard to make that transition from Flandreau Indian School to Ft. Polk Louisiana. So it wasnít quite as hard on some of these guys. It seems like Indians adapt well in the military (for training and going into war); where Indians have their problems is when they come back from the war--well, their job is done. The job is done; you go home. But the Army doesnít see it that way. You will have to complete your tour of duty stateside. But a lot of Indians were not able to adjust to Garrison-type duty. We find that there is a lot of ďbad paperĒ or dishonorable discharges for the simple fact that when they were through fighting, the war was over; itís time to go home. And they did.
You can still have a dishonorable discharge and still
belong to this organization. We donít recognize what the military gave
you in the way of a piece of paper. If you served, you served. You
served your people. Those that served in the military are veterans and
warriors. Iíve gotten some of the same reinforcement from my people,
too. I try to play as low a profile as possible.
Automatically built into this organization weíve got, the vet center provides services for the vets and families. Whatever problem that they are dealing with, the vet center provides counseling for families, too. A lot of the vet centers have a combination of wivesí and husbandsí groups. Iíve worked with children of Vietnam vets. Mothers of Vietnam vets wonder how come their boy is not right. In the organization we have auxiliaries [for the families of vets]. The insignia is put on a shawl and our wives, children, daughters, aunts, grandmothers wear these shawls. If it wasnít for our wives and families, we wouldnít have an organization; they are the backbone of the organization; and thatís automatically built in. We take care of the families as well as we take care of the vet. It gives them a chance to show the pride they have in their vet; their warrior. Anytime we have a powwow down there that involves vets, our wives will wear these shawls, especially when they call for the Vietnam vet songs. When they call for those special Vietnam vet songs, the vets come out and will dance around the drum and behind us will be our wives and daughters, grandmothers, aunts wearing these shawls with our name on the back. Weíve got a captured Vietcong flag. Weíll give it to one of the kids and theyíll drag it in the dirt, you donít show the enemyís flag. Weíve got a captured Vietcong flag that will be brought out in the arena and these warriors, these vets will be allowed to count coup on that flag. Then weíll burn it.
Some of these rap groups are negative in nature through the vet center program, talking about bad feelings, bad memories, a lot of Indian guys wonít participate in those, because itís kind of degrading what they felt has been honorable. They are warriors; they fought and sacrificed; and sometimes the vet center approach is kind of negative. By calling attention to the problems; that may be why Indians donít want to come into the program for service.
Hopefully, [if an Indian vet is having problems], thatís
something that can be taken care of here. For ďUrban Indians,Ē weíre
trying to encourage the vet programs to put their posters up in Indian
centers in the cities. Because itís hard for Indian vets to ask for
help if they donít know itís available. At every training session we go
to, one of the Indian counselors on the program will always do a
presentation to the counselors about some ďdos and donítsĒ with Indian
people in general and specifically Indian vets.
Some of the dos and doníts are: no direct eye contact; provide concrete services first; and try to build a good, true relationship. It took a lot for him to come into that office and ask for help; and if you do things that make him uncomfortable, he wonít come back again. And, heís closed the door on that source of help for himself. Those are some of the things that we talk about at the training sessions.
We found that the Vietnam experience cuts deeper than tribal lines. This is one of the first intertribal vet organizations thatís ever been successful. Theyíve tried having intertribal vetís organizations. But, because there is still a lot of tribal identity and antagonism among certain tribes, they donít like to associate with certain tribes. But we found that the Vietnam experience cuts deeper than tribal lines. Thatís whatís allowed this program--our organization--to be successful. What weíve also found out is that it cuts deeper than racial lines, too. Back in the 60s, everything was a race problem. Blacks were on one side; whites were on the other side, and you didnít get between them. Except in the bush in Vietnam, and then it didnít matter what color you were; if he was Black, you had to depend on him; if he was a southern cracker, you had to depend on him. And that took away the racial stuff out in the bush. They had problems in the base camps and stuff, but when you are out in the jungle, it doesnít make any difference what color that guy is next to you. And thatís why these people have opened up the sweat lodge and some of the healing ceremonies to all Vietnam vets. That something weíve learned as we went along.
* * * * *
Because of the stereotype of the American Indian, even the Army views the Indians as a martial race--ďThey like doing that stuff.Ē You are supposed to be a scout and that holds true in Vietnam; when you get ready to move out into the bush.
Indians want to be the best they can be; thatís why a lot of them end up in combat arms. Thatís also probably one of the reasons why the Indian casualty rate is so high; because they found their way into combat situations. The first survey we did said that 37% had been wounded; thatís a pretty high percentage rate. The reason for that was that they were in the front lines in the combat unit. If you are an Indian, you are supposed to be good. We had one Navajo boy, who was born and reared in the city, and he had no conception of his way around the woods and anything, yet he was put on the point because he was an Indian. There is that stereotype; that mystique of the Indian being good. But a lot of the guys ask for it, too. Marines, Airborne, rank all those types of things; they wanted to come home with the Airborne wings or in that snappy lookiní Marine Corps uniform. They wanted those things and they got Ďem. Most Indians enlisted; they didnít wait to be drafted. We find it unique that the White man didnít want to fight in that war and went to Canada to get away from it. The Canadian Indians came south across the line and enlisted to fight in that war; there is a contrast, too. Weíve got several Canadians that are members of the organization.
Back in World War One well over 10,000 Indians served in
the military and citizenship wasnít granted to all American Indians
until 1924, five or six years after the war was over. Yet these Indians
volunteered; they went and served; they couldnít have been drafted.
They volunteered to serve in that war. If you ask some of them why they
served, many felt it was treaty obligation on their part. They signed a
treaty with this country and by treaty they are obligated to fight for
this country. So they used the treaty obligation just the opposite,
instead of trying to get out of a war, they used the treaty to go ahead
and participate in the war.
At some point in some of the Indians realized when they got over there, this is really reminiscent of what the Calvary did to us. Because hereís the little village, and hereís the combat assault, choppers coming in and rockets going off target; they are shooting and they are blowing up houses, huts and people. It doesnít take too long before you realize hey, Iíve seen this before on the movies. Itís what the Calvary did; weíre the Calvary; they are the Indians. As a matter of fact, Vietcong country was called ďIndian country;Ē when you are going out, you are going into Indian country. And some of the Indians did realize thatóthat Iím doing that same thing the Calvary did to these peopleóbut the Calvary is now comprised of Indians as well non-Indians. And, it has caused a problem for some. For others, it was combat and it didnít make any difference; it was surviving from one day to the next. And these people are trying to kill you. I talked to a Cheyenne man the other day and when it first dawned on him that these people are trying to kill him, he said a prayer at that time. He said, ďWell, Iím going to go. If you take me, thatís fine, but Iím going to do every thing I can to survive.Ē And the second portion of his prayer was for those people shooting at him, he said, cuz Iím going to take their lives. So he said a prayer for his enemies.
The non-Indians, some of the White guys, Black guys, they hate the Vietnamese. They hate them for being here in this country. Itís kind of a natural reaction. They remind them of something very bad, so they did like their country did to them, they placed the blame on them. So a lot of the people we work with really have a lot of resentment towards Vietnamese people, as a people, kind of a racist type attitude towards them. But I donít see that in the Indians, except very seldom. As a matter of fact, Iíve seen Indians get up and leave a group when the group will be talking about Vietnamese; talking about them badly, cussing them, saying how worthless they are and stuff. The Indian guy just got up and left; he said I donít want to hear about it. Cuz as far as Iím concerned they are just people, a whole lot closer to me than those guys are. So you donít find that resentment towards the Vietnamese themselves. As a matter of fact, we wanted to invite the Vietnamese to this doing; we felt it might facilitate the healing process; their enemies are here. Some of these guys arenít enemies; they served with the Vietnamese over there; fought alongside them. Thatís one phenomenon I do not see among Indians, is the hostility toward the Vietnamese community in this country. I like that; itís refreshing that war was fought in their country; they are the ones who suffered the most.
Sam DeCory, Class of '83, sociology, of Spearfish, South Dakota died May 24, 2002. He was a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, counselor and organizer of the Lakota Omniciye Powwow at Black Hills State University. DeCory served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Korea and the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He received five Purple Hearts, several Bronze and Silver Stars, and the Distinguished Service Cross, among other decorations. After his military service, he served as a police officer and undercover drug agent. He later became a private counselor, specializing in counseling veterans.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder has been conceptualized as a withdrawal reaction to the trauma experienced in combat (Lifton, 1973) and an unintegrated, emotional response to the horror of the Vietnam experience (Levenberg, 1983). It can also be considered a response to losing a feeling of safety and control.
Many veterans, having lost faith in the ability of the government and other societal structures to protect them, report feeling a sense of constant danger for themselves and their families. In other words, the experience in Vietnam cost them a sense of protection and invulnerability shared by most individuals in society (Gressard, 1987).
So much more can be said about PTSD especially by us Lakotas who are and have been experiencing it since our return from the war in Southeast Asia. I for one still have it, and I suppose I will continue to experience it throughout this lifetime. As I write this letter, I am going through some psychological experiences that are hard to overcome. Maybe by attempting to write at this time I can put some of these things on paper and help another veteran.
I am surrounded by caring and loving people, but yet I still feel alone. I feel that no matter how hard I try, I still have the feeling of not accomplishing anything. I am constantly on edge and am filled with anger that is hard to describe. The least little thing sets me off, and sometimes it is hard to control. Whenever I get like this I feel that people are playing mind games with me.
I know inside of me that I must defeat this insidious emotion grip that has gotten hold of me and I use everything within me to fight it. Some nights I dream about some of the terrible things that we went through or sometimes I dream that I am in Vietnam, standing in a beautiful rice paddy surrounded by the most picturesque scenery imaginable. All is quiet and peaceful and all of a sudden there is a cry of ďincoming!Ē and I am running for my life, looking for cover and all I can see are Pungi stakes where before there was rice growing! I wake up in a cold sweat and realizing where I am, the sweats, the scaredness and the gut feeling subsides.
I thank Tunkashila for an understanding wife. Sometimes I
think that she has every right in the world to leave me. But because we
were married with the pipe she understands, most of it anyway. She
also understands that with all of these things that are wrong with me, I
will not live too much longer. She knows I havenít felt really good
for a long time and also understands when I cry sometimes, out of
frustration or PTSD. But most of all, she understands and believes me
when I tell her that I love her, thank God for her understanding and
patience and for our three boys, one who has gone back to Ate because of
These are the things that help me cope!
by Ron Hernandez
These are some of the people I went to school with, some of the people I grew up with, some of the people I played with, and walked around the countryside with. I especially remember Blair Two Crows cuz heís the person I went into the service with from Martin, South Dakota. From there we went to basic training and AIT (advanced Infantry Training) at various areas. He went to a different base than me, but we had our orders to go to Vietnam and we spent our last time together in some EM (Enlisted Menís) Clubs and we talked of the time weíd see each other again after the war. Apparently he didnít make it. A bomb blew up in front of him and blew him away. That was the last time I saw him. And every time I would see his parents, they would start to cry; it would bring back memories of him. He was one of the people I most remember. A couple of other names, for example Delno Featherman, heís from Kyle, the same place Iím originally from and Richard Cooney is a person I went to school with. Thereís quite a few. I could stand here and reminisce about each one of them and itís good to see this as a monument to Native American vets that have been in the service. So, itís good.
I think that a lot of the problems that a lot of the Native American Vietnam vets have is much deeper than the drugs and alcohol. There are a lot of inner things that are happening in that person, be they cultural differences or what theyíve seen or experienced. The mud and blood, all those things, I think that is deeper than the drugs themselves. I think itís a covering, so a lot of that was brought back to the States.
I was in artillery, on a gun that shot twenty miles, so naturally, we couldnít see what we hit or damaged. So our forward observer who was in a helicopter would come back and tell us how much we killed. One time they came back and told us we killed 145 people (NVA and Viet Cong) and I didnít know what to expect, whether to be proud or what, it was kind of... it was more of a depressing feeling. On the one hand, they want you to feel really good about it, on the other hand, these are people that just died. So I think it was inner things like that from artillery manís point of view. Those things you bring back to the States and you somehow cover it up with alcoholism, drugs, and so forth.
[During the Tet Offensive] I laid low; so low in the mud I would look up and see mud. Thatís how low I was; those incoming rounds were really something. [We were hit] pretty bad; we lost our medic, our CO (Commanding Officer). Our medic got hit by our own artillery rounds going off; the powder beside our artillery round got hit. It burned up and set our artillery rounds off. The shrapnel from that came and hit him in the face; it wasted his face. From what I understand he pulled out his own IVs. He felt his face, which was gone, and he couldnít take it.
Our artillery battalion shot into Hamburger Hill. We laid down the fire with B-52 bombers and our artillery all shot into Hamburger Hill before the infantry came in. But after that, our engineers dug a hole with the graters and the helicopters came by and laid the bodies down there. The V.C. bodies; that was their way of burying the bodies up there. After they came up there to claim the bodies of their soldiers but it was just leveled, but it was bodies, blood, smoke, the works. It was something to see, all those bodies brought in. So a lot of those memories still stay with me. There are nights I canít sleep on my back for the fear of an incoming round coming in my bedroom and landing on my chest.
The main flashback I get is of pots and pans in KP. No, thatís one of many. I get flashbacks of that time in Vietnam and convoys, and I get a reoccurring dream that Iím back in the service again. Iím explaining to this soldier that Iíve already been in the service, and heís saying, ďIím just doing my job. You have to talk to somebody else.Ē
Youíve got this chain of command and Iím going down the list telling them that Iíve already been through this. Then he turns around and says, ďWell, youíre here, why donít you just grab a gun and start blazing or whatever you have to do.Ē Thatís one of the recurring dreams I have. And Iíve talked to a couple of fellows, friends of mine that work in here, and they have similar dreams.
[I was discharged from] Ft. Lewis, Washington. Thatís another thing Iíve noticed; World War Two vets traveled in boats, and they fired each other up before they were sent to battle, or they kind of came down after they came back from the battle. Now, itís twenty-four hours and youíre there in the war, and when we came back we werenít anywhere ready to go back into civilian life. I would think, yesterday I was in a war. Then you come back stateside and go to McDonaldís and order up a hamburger, then hear a car backfire.
You came back from a system that is in chaos, then you come back to the stateside where everything is just kind of there; 12:00 lunch, 5:00 we got off work, and we get into the mainstream. That was a problem for vets coming back.
When I came back I went to Tulsa to visit some friends, then I went back to Gordon, Nebraska and sort of meandered home; really searching, really for a parade, I think. Searching for that parade we never got. So during that search, [I was] searching for reasons. I didnít quite get that [insecure] feeling, but I knew I was there because I experienced it; nobody else knew it. I wanted other people to know it, but no one seemed to care; especially from a border town like Gordon, Nebraska, where racism is high; they look at Indians a certain way. And to find a Vietnam vet in the middle of that was nothing. For six months I spent time there feeling those things; so this is America, this is what I fought for. And getting all these remarks, and itís hard. Thatís why I said there are differences between [Indians and non-Indians], thereís no color blindness, there are differences, and I donít think I should apologize for that.
The Army, armed services is a whole different system. Itís not individual; itís not an individual kind of system. Itís more groups, teams, companies, platoons, battalions. So when you come out of that system and you go to civilian life youíre forgotten; youíre amongst the millions that get the fair treatmentóitís somehow not fair but thatís the way it is. Our veterans feel that they should somehow get rewarded for being a vet. Maybe first choice at work orÖ Itís hard to say to someone, ďI fought for you.Ē You donít want to say that cuz then youíd really be going on an ego trip. Veterans donít want to say that. Thatís my personal feeling. Other vets may feel differently. But thatís what it is, two different systems, armed services and then the civilian life. [In] that adjustment from one system to another a lot of vets tend to lose it. And looking back at it, I think the armed services, families, or some agencies should have been in between there to help the vets.
I got that one meal [from the VA]. I signed up here and there; went for a physical a couple of times; I think their program is much better now then when we came back. When we came back there was nothing there; no counseling, no AA programs, no drug abuse programs, family relationship programs, adjustment, food, shelter, none of those were there. So, ďYouíre on your own, boy!Ē youíre an average veteran, you did itóVietnamóyou should be fine on the outside. Youíve got all these monkeys on your back, and youíre expected to make it because youíre a veteranóthatís my feeling.
* * * * *
Did you see those little [Vietnamese] kids? Some of them look like little Indian kids. They look just like that at home.
I think the experience I remember most was the time our company medic got killed, and I seen a dead Viet Cong on the side of the road. It was an early morning convoy; we were going out to a fire support base which was in the valley towards Laos. Before we went out there the infantry and combat engineers went out before us to do a reconnaissance of the roads and check for landmines and they had a fire fight right over the hill. You could hear the quad 50s go off and the AK-47s, and you could see tracers flying out of there and see smoke and napalm and hand grenades. But, they came back and told us it was clear and we started driving; I was on a 175-mm self-propelled [gun] and I was on there waiting for any kind of action. But to look down and see a dead Viet Cong there, his head blown away from a 50 caliber, to see that and back home on the reservation you see a dead dog, cats, a deer, whatever, but to see that Viet Cong was quite an experience. It was kind of like going to a wax museum and seeing all those figures, you know, thereís no spirit or soul, but to look down and see something similar to that itís quite an impression. Then you start to see everything as plastic. Your body is just plastic with tubes and meat and blood and thereís no soul and spirit. There is one in there but you somehow start to separate that, and you start to look toward the Great Spirit or God for answers trying to find out these things. Itís on the threshold of a different experience. Definitely, I knew I couldnít be a doctor.
When [our medic] got hit by shrapnel from our projos (projectiles) blowing up I think a piece of shrapnel hit him on the side of the head and knocked his eyes out of his eye sockets. And when they took him back to the fire support base, back in his base camp, he felt his eyes, they were out and he was all messed up; he pulled his IVs out. I think he couldnít take it; to be alive and still pull your IVs out is something.
[The effect was having] one of those feelings that you carry around with you. You come back to the States, and you carry that with you, that ďI donít give a damnĒ attitude. In bars, you want to and click, youíre gone. Grab a gun, stick, anything and theyíll probably be hitting you in the face and everything and youíre determined to do what you have to do. You see a lot of vets pulling out guns and not remembering what they did; firing from church towers and so on, because life is really nothing. You have that mentality from basic training: kill, kill, and kill. So you carry that with you and the law in Vietnam was really not there, but the law in the stateside is here. Reality is that there is a law, but in Vietnam if you kill someone you get a medal; you kill someone here you do time.
There were other times, too, that I witnessed death. When we first pulled in there was a Viet Cong that got killed. He was working for the CIA; he was an infiltrator for the U.S. But he went into it the he came out and he was running away. So they had to waste him cuz he had so much information about what both sides were doing. They wasted him in the valley. Iíll always remember that. You remember the person. You never see that person, but maybe you will.
I think the thing that comes to mind the most is the word responsibility. No matter what, even if you are against the war or for the war, you are still responsible for whatever decision you make; you are still responsible. Youíre responsible in the sense that you wanted that war or for the outcomes. If you are against the war there still is responsibility; people died either way. I think what I most get out of that is that you have to be for or against. If you are against the war and the communists come and get us you are responsible for the decision you make. If you are for the war and you lose it, you are still responsible for the decision that you made.
I walk past where they are making a new road and I can smell the diesel. That aroma of diesel brought back memories because our gun was self-propelled, and we used diesel to travel. Or I go by some house I smell incense and that brings back some memories of Vietnam; not so much the people but the things that are around.
* * * * *
I went to Denver, Colorado. I signed up to college, signed up to go on relocation to Denver. So I went to Denver and I studied architectural drafting. I was a brick layer before I went into the service; they say I was good with my hands. I did that for one year but I wanted to go further than that. I went to school, and I went to work for a firm in Denver. Then from there, I kind of went from here to there. I worked in Chicago for awhile; I was an electrical engineer, junior gradeóCommonwealth Edison was the electrical and gas people. I was making good money, but I wasnít satisfied.
I wasnít really settled, I was searching; maybe for that parade, I donít know. But it seemed that I wasnít stable, I was unpredictable, and my decisions were off the cuff. I went from here to there in a span of about ten years. During that time I was following an inspiration. I think my first impression to go into architecture was watching the old folks put up a log cabin.
I was a combat engineer; my MOS was Combat Engineer, but
they stuck me in artillery. That was another thing I didnít like. I
took my AIT (advanced infantry training) in Ft. Leonard Wood, MO as a
combat engineer cuz I was a brick layer, and I was into drafting then,
so they put me in as a combat engineer. But after I took my training,
when I went to Vietnam after getting my orders, they put me in
artillery; you know, wherever youíre needed, wherever a body is needed.
So, your expectations are low.
So in a sense I still had this inspiration that Iíve had since I was so high. I think I first got inspired [to go] into architecture when I was watching my grandfather put up a log cabin. It was amazing to see that. It was a backyard role model, I guess. It was my grandfather who first inspired me to pursue architecture; from there it was history.
I had my G.I. Bill; I spent so many years getting ripped and driving I figured I better use it. I was in Chicago and still had this pipe dream, this goal that I had to become an architect. I applied to North Dakota State University (NDSU) Architecture Department to go to school and I was accepted. So I made my move down there with my G.I. Bill in hand and some of this combat engineering stuff that I had, some of my grandfatherís stuff; I took those to Fargo with me.
I donít want to put this [in], I know there are other people
having problems, I just took this with me; these ideas, this goal that I
had, and kept it. I donít want to be a spokesperson for other people
that are having problems, be a front for all these other problems. But
there are still problems, I want to say that Iím fortunate to be given
these opportunities and pick them out.
Iíd like to go as an example as a rock, a stone tool. If you had this stone tool inside this house and the house burns down, you still have this stone tool; very basic and you start working with it again. And, I somehow kept that as a goal with my grandfatherís log cabin, and kept that with me and picked out the best of a lot of things. I know there are other vets with problems. I donít want to be a front for those other vets, be a spokesperson for them in the sense that ďI made it, and they should be able to make it.Ē I know there are problems still to be solved. Iím fortunate to be in this position. Iím one of the fortunate ones.
By Geary Hobson
For several years after I came back from Southeast Asia, and after I got out of the Marine Corps, I didnít really think of myself as a Viet Nam veteran because I was in Southeast Asia before there was really a Viet Nam war. I was in the Marine Corps from 1959 to 1965. In 1961, 1962, I was in Okinawa, based there with three or four different units, all part of the Third Marine Division. At one point, I was detailed to what was called a ďfloating battalionĒ---Third Battalion, Fifth Marines. TAD (Temporary Additional Duty). This meant being shipboard in the South China Sea, then to South Viet Nam for a couple of days and then on to Northern Thailand, along the Mekong River for a two-month tour. And then we were replaced by another battalion from the division on Okinawa. We had replaced one before us. I donít recall the names of the units, both before and after us.
That was in the early 60s, as I said. It wasnít until years later that I learned that we were basically in that area to provide support for the building of air bases in Northern Thailand. In retrospect, it seems now as if they were even then getting ready for something much bigger that was going to happen. We didnít know much about the Viet Cong back then. We didnít hear that term much. But we did know about the Pathet Lao, and we were engaging in fire fights with them from time to time. Our battalion the same as the one before us, engaged in sporadic fights throughout the late fifties and early sixties. I went on three patrols into Laos while I was there. I was in communications and also in machine-guns. I had the 2533 MOS, radio telegrapher, as well as one for.30 caliber machine-gunner. As I say, it was a few years later that the Viet Nam War really heated up, so that I didnít consider myself a Viet Nam veteran until they began to classify the war as being from 1959 to 1975, covering a 16-year period. I may be incorrect about this, but thatís what I began to hear in the 1970s. So, in one sense, I am a Viet Nam veteran although I wasnít in Viet Nam as a combat participant. Only in Laos. Thatís basically what my experience was.
There were listening posts that were firmly established in the early 60s in Laos and that Marine battalions were rotating people in and out of there. This was historically documented even at the same time that each president from Kennedy on to Nixon was denying any early involvement.
I didnít know they were called listening posts. We were just there on gun emplacements on the river, and we would go on patrols into Laos. Iím not really sure about the Plain of Jars, where most of the Pathet Lao activity was supposed to be, but we never went into that area. It was many years---40 years ago now. There wasnít a lot of activity on the part of the Pathet Lao coming over into Thailand, as far as we knew. I heard while I was there that the battalion before us had had a lot of difficulties with them. So did we, but not nearly as badly as the previous battalion. I remember now how all along, back then, that we felt that any day things were going to blow up, a full-scale war, like Viet Nam eventually became, would happen any day. I remember how, in í61, I was coming back to the United States on a ship from Okinawa to San Francisco, and we were probably halfway across the Pacific, when, all of a sudden, we got word that we were being sent back to Okinawa because things were really beginning to get serious in Southeast Asia. And my tour had already been extended. I was supposed to have been there 13 months, and had been extended two months, and then another two months. So 17 months there, counting ship time, and I remember that feeling of despair and dread, when we were faced with the ship turning back. I said, no, Iíve already faced my tour, but now Iím having to go back and it again. But it was all a false alarm. We didnít have to turn back. And I came on to the States in 1961.
I guess the Viet Nam war was coming at the time. Kennedy was still
alive and he was dealing with Diem, he was replaced---deposed---in í63,
a little bit before Kennedy was killed. Other people in my unit were
concerned that we were going to get into a hot fire fight war. We were
just sure it would be almost any time. Even in Okinawa, you know, even
before we became part of the floating battalion, we were feeling like we
were there already, and it intensified after we got to Thailand. I
know what it is to be shot at and to shoot at people without seeing
them. Weíd just shoot where we knew the fire was coming from. It was
very chaotic, but it was always very short. It never lasted very long.
It was almost both sides were very afraid to do anything full-scale.
I was on active duty until í65, and Iím actually counting my two years of active reserves. So I got out of active duty in í63. But I remained in reserves for two more years. I went to meetings there for a while in Phoenix, Arizona when I was going to college. And then the last year, a little more than a year, I just didnít go to them. They just werenít really checking up on us that much. And I got out entirely in May of í65. Yeah, the Gulf of Tonkin was when Johnson went for re-election, and he won re-election on that. That would have been in the fall of í64.
I guess I didnít know too much about what was happening in Viet
Nam, except what Iíd read in the newspaper or heard on the radio, until
it just started to really build up in í63, í64. I thought that if there
was going to be any outbreak of war, it would probably happen in
Thailand or Laos. That was the part that I thought was more sensitive,
so I was just sort of surprised that Viet Nam was it. It wasnít until
around í65, í66 that I began to question the whole idea of what the
military was doing there anyway.
Another thing, too, that bothered me like a lot was how a lot of my fellow Marines had such an incredible disrespect for Southeast Asian people---Thai people, Okinawans, Vietnamese---and how they would just consign them to terms like ďgooksĒ or ďslantsĒ and things like that. I didnít like that, didnít do it myself, and soon I was wondering about what we were supposed to be doing over there. And then in í66 or í67, I started getting involved in the antiwar movement. I went to Chicago in í68 for the Democratic Convention. I had my way paid up there by the Veterans Against the War group, wore a suit jacket and a tie and all. We were to talk to different delegates, you know, different state delegations. Since I was living in Arizona at the time, going to Arizona State, I was supposed to talk to delegates from the Arizona delegation. And I tried to talk to an Arkansas delegate, too, because Iím an Arkansas native, but I didnít get anywhere with that. But Chicago was an eye-opening experience. A little after that I became disillusioned with the antiwar movement, I kind of dropped out of that entirely, but I still felt the war had become much more than what it should have been.
I donít remember any of my officers saying anything specific about labeling our enemy, as a rule. There were, though, a couple of exceptions. But I donít---even to this day--- associate their feelings with the Marine Corps itself; nothing as a rule that could be misconstrued as disrespectful to the Vietnamese, or Laotian, or Thai, or Okinawan people. But, yes, for some of our NCOs, you know, since some had fought the Japanese in World War Two or Korea. But, no, I donít think it was the policy of the Marine Corps. There were just a lot of average Americans who had anti-Asian feelings. On the other hand, there was, of course, a general attitude of condescension by Americans toward Asians, but that is a different kind of racism, isnít it?
Well, I was becoming aware of it. Again, when I was there, I was a
19- and 20-year-old, and a lot of this didnít come together for me
until later on. But I comprehend the idea of how we could be so
antagonistic to these people when we really didnít even know them. And I
would think, too, about the problems I had sometimes with the kids in
grade school. You know, if I would make a mistake, do something a
little more ďIndianĒ than the other kids, how even if I werenít laughed
at outright, or even put down for it, I would still feel myself drawing
back and feeling, well, Iím kind of out of place here. So, yeah,
antagonism towards Asiatics would bring back to me that feeling of
alienation and, you know, leave me wondering, whatís really going on
In fact, one thing Iíve forgotten to mention is that in one machine-gun squad---and I became the squad leader after we got over to Thailand. I was 19 and a lance corporal. And of 13 of us in the squad, eight of us were ethnics---so, you know, we were Chicanos, one other Indian guy, blacks. And the whites, too, in the squad---itís interesting---I donít mean to make a Marxist thing of this, but they were poor whites from, as I recall, Kentucky, and one from Colorado, and so on; all definitely working class, anyway. And, so, yes, we would talk about these things, like we could tell if a certain sergeant, you know, maybe a generation older than us who would have that kind of feeling that we were Spics, or redskins, you know, who would use terms like that, and treat us differently. I really had very little contact with officers, but when I did, it seemed like they had a polished veneer about them, so I didnít, as a rule, get any direct prejudice from them. But, as Iíve mentioned, there were exceptions. In fact, I write about this in my short story, ďPlain of Jars.Ē
* * * * *
I didnít have any real relations with the people in Laos and Thailand and Okinawa. I didnít get to know very many Thais. I didnít get to know any Laotian people at all, obviously, in that context. I only saw them at a distance, through my gun-sight. Thai people, I knew only just to chat with briefly, when theyíd come by and try to sell something to us. Even in Okinawa, you know, there was really little communication. There was a cabdriver I got to know a bit, and the guy who came by to pick up our laundry, and I would talk with them a bit, and I think they were beginning to see me as an Indian person and not just as another GI. But, no, I didnít get to know the people all that well. There was always that American wall.
One of the things that had been reported is that a lot of GIs, especially after the build up in Viet Nam, were so used to having American cultural artifacts in country, that, you know, living with excess of consumer goods, living with the provision of food stuffs that werenít part of the indigenous area, but it was like trying to provide them with a sense of American presence so that they did not have this intercultural exchange that was going on.
I think we were kind of isolated in our bases. We couldnít really learn like what is really Okinawan culture. You know, even in the sense of a superimposed Japanese culture there, we learned a lot of Japanese words in Okinawa, but I didnít learn the Japanese culture. Years later, I read a lot about Japan and Japanese authors. I learned some Thai words, you know, but I didnít get to know the culture. There was that barrier there between us. And I understand that later on that the guys in Viet Nam who would be there for a while would, maybe if they were involved with a woman, then they might learn not only about her but theyíd also penetrate that cultural barrier. Learn something about the culture and even appreciate it. But I didnít have that experience.
American Veterans Against the War was a significant group with some political clout. And then, of course, Ron Kovic, and his people were really powerful in terms of their statements about the war and what its repercussions were.
I was writing then, but not so much about Viet Nam. I find it really hard to write about Southeast Asia. I do, though, peripherally in a novel that Iíve written, but have not published. And also some short stories. When I began writing during the antiwar movement, there was a lot of anger involved after I began to see just what was going on and trying to put it in my own terms. But I became disillusioned with the antiwar movement because it was made up too much of students who had no sense of or had never been in the military, and who often considered those of us who were vets as somehow having been fools for having served in the first place. And so I fell away from the Committee to End the War in Viet Nam. I was never a part of SDS, but I was involved in a lot of marches and demonstrations with them, but they were too doctrinaire; another case, for me, of people who had never been in uniform calling the shots. So I gravitated within the first year of my antiwar activity to what veterans were doing. And then I became disillusioned with that, because it seemed like it was the former officers who were taking over and readying themselves for political careers. I remember I was asked if I would like to go to Washington, that time when vets threw their medals over the wall, but I had already dropped out by then.
I hope I donít get tangled up in this. What I remember now is that when I got out of the service, very little was said of it. My family was glad I was out and everything like that. ďNow youíre out before itís going to really get bad over there. Youíre getting out at the right time,Ē they said. And when I got involved in the antiwar movement, my family didnít criticize me for it. My mother, my father, brother, even my cousins---first up to third cousins---didnít ostracize me at all. But the people in the community did, so that even years later, there are some people who wonít speak to me, because ďyouíre one of those war protesters.Ē Itís significant that my family didnít hold it against me. They were very accepting of me. They never judged me for it. Or if any of them did judge me harshly for it, at least they havenít made me feel bad about what I did. Iím deeply grateful for that, and because of that, and other things, I stay involved in many things with them to this day. When they need something, I try to help out as much as I can. But there is still a wall of sorts for me back there, but mostly it is with the non-Indian people in that part of Arkansas. I went to a high school reunion in 1987, 28 years after Iíd gotten out of high school. Our high school had been so small that when they had the reunion years later, there were four grades put together. Those of us who were ninth graders, tenth graders, eleventh graders, and twelfth graders were all honored together. When I walked up to some of them to greet them, they turned away. This happened several times and all by people who were not my kin in any kind of way. I hadnít seen them for all those years, but I guess it still bothered them that I had been a war protester. But that was Desha County. Iím from Rohwer. Itís interesting there. Itís where one of the more well-known Japanese relocation camps was. My dad worked at that camp during World War Two. And I grew up about two miles from it. My high school is built on the grounds where part of that camp was located---my grade school and high school. It was real rural Arkansas; and swamps; so very rural Arkansas.
I think that may have something to do with my not having any animosity toward Okinawan people, and maybe other Asian people, too, when I was over there, because of my dad. He was 4F (selective service classification) in World War Two; didnít have to serve and he worked in that camp as a truck driver and various other jobs. He made Japanese friends. And years later, when I went into the Marines, and I was home on leave out of boot camp, he said to me: ďWell, youíre getting ready to go overseas. If you get to HawaiiÖĒ and he gave me some addresses. There were about a half-dozen Japanese names. ďIf you get there,Ē he said, ďyou might look them up, give them a call.Ē Heíd kept in contact with those folks. And so, with my father having a good feeling about Japanese people, and I was spared growing up with that ďthose are gooksĒ attitude. He never expounded on it or talked much about it, but thatís what I put together about it.
Looking back today, in looking at current situations, as a Viet Nam era vet, what would you say to young Indians on the brink of their own journeys, looking at their involvement in connection to the nation in the newest war or recent war?
I just have a very generalized thing, I guess, to say, and that is, just donít forget who you are. And to that extent, donít take other peopleís ideologies or beliefs without questioning them and testing them for yourself. Just because someone relegates a whole group of people through negative names, it doesnít mean that you have to do it as well, just to prove you are American, Indian, or whatever. I know itís very bland to say this, but I would urge them (young people) to keep a sense of personal integrity. I think I had that back then.
It was so easy to fall in the rank and file to denigrate another human being. According to American history, Indians were savages and renegades and all of the terms that we used to dehumanize so that it made it easier to dispose of them.
In my novel, The Last of the Ofos, I have a section where my main character, an Ofo Indian from Louisiana, and he grows up, you know, using the term ďnigger.Ē Indians in the South did that as well as Whites. And years later, he still thinks in terms of the term, even though he has a close friend whoís Black, and then toward the end of the novel, he has a girl friend whoís Black. But before he meets the girl friend, one of the anthropologists he is working with in language preservation, sort of gently tells him, well, ďniggerĒ is not an acceptable term, that Black people find it offensive, and that maybe he shouldÖand he says, ďYeah, I was told that, and I am sorry if Iíve hurt peopleís feelings, but I grew up not knowing any better than to use it.Ē Iím trying right now to talk in the dialect that Iíve got in the book. And Iíve noticed that a lot of people in the South have had that experience. When I was growing up, I also thought thatís the thing to say, and then learning better in high school, that there are more proper things to say. Still, it rolls off peopleís tongues, even when people sometimes donít intend damage. Itís part of the mindset.
Another thing, too, that Iím remembering; out of Boot Camp, I
was given a 2500 MOS, then later sent to radio school to learn radio
procedure and Morse Code. There were 12 of us in that class, and 8 of
us were Indians in one variation or another. And it goes back to World
War Two days, even World War One, you know, when Indians were used as
communicators, code talkers.
We learned radio procedure, code, and also how to operate voice, too. The radio telegrapherís MOS, 2533, contains within it the voice operatorís MOS, 2531---or at least it did way back then. I donít know what they do these days. Anyway, there was the idea, they told us, that if we got into combat as radiomen, we could talk to one another in our native languages and confuse the enemy. That was the first time I heard about the Indian code talkers thing. That, I think, had carried over from World War Two, when the Navajos had done code talking in the Pacific.
In our class there were two other Cherokees. They didnít speak much Cherokee, as I recall. There were a couple of Navajos, a couple of Sioux, a Blackfoot, and a Choctaw (I think he was). And we joked about it, that of speaking different languages. I did my basic training at MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) in San Diego. And then I went to radio school in Okinawa.
I remember my father talking about his experiences working in the Japanese camp. They closed it out in 1946, a year after the war. I know this because I talked to him a number of times about it. But all during the 40ís and 50ís, while I was growing up as a boy, I never heard him use any negative words about Japanese people. In fact, it was just the opposite. And my mom, too, because of my father, Iím sure, wouldnít use derogatory terms either. But they both would still say ďnigger,Ē you know. It was part of their Southern Indian culture.
Jim Northrup writes a monthly newspaper column, the Fond Du Lac Follies which is published in The Circle, The Native American Press, and the News From Indian Country. In his writings, he describes life on the reservation with candor and wry humor. He enlisted in the military and served with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. He was a rifleman, and he is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.
I enlisted. [I was] 18, I went right from ricing to the military. I was in an infantry company. I first worked as a supply sergeant. My MOS was a basic rifleman. I met a couple of [Indian boys in Vietnam].
[When I visited the wall;] Well, when I first saw it and first started seeing names I recognized I kind of had a crying jag. I wasnít stoned, drunk, or anything, I was straight. But I started seeing names that I recognized and it all came back; what the weather was like, what we were doing that day. It was a real intense time.
I went over as a corporal; then I went down to PFC. I made sergeant; went down to lance corporal and back up to corporal again. In that last year I was a lot of ranks. I was in the 1st platoon of India Company. Initially, we were around the airstrip at Da-Nang and then we started moving farther and farther out. So when we were south of Da-Nang--I think it was June of í66; I remember one month we ran operation Georgiaówe ran south of Da-Nang to Ai Ngnia. Then we set up camp there and ran patrols, ambushes, and sweeps; walk all day, walk all night kinds of stuff. There were lots of ďbouncing betties,Ē snipers, mines, foot traps, mosquitoes, and biting ants.
We didnít have anything like whole squads wiped out; not
like it was later on. Ours was more like you knew every guy that got
killed. It was a standard Marine like company; three rifle squads. I
lost a few partners; I guess one is a lot. I guess one is too much.
One of the officers said, ďOh, good, weíve got an Indian, he can walk point.Ē And just to kind of jive him I said, ďHey man, T grew up in Minneapolis. Letís cut through some alleys over here then I can talk to you.Ē [The say is that everybody knew ďChiefĒ but they didnít know his name], except, I think, outside of your circle of people, your small circle of people. Theyíre with you night and day and they knew you by name; your life history, the woman that you lied about, the cars that you never had. So these are the guys you got to know. But outside of that circle it was ďChief.Ē Outside of five, six or eight people, it was ďChief.Ē [Indians have] like a sixth sense or something.
Actually, I think it was easier over there being an Indian because I was recognized as an Indian. Like [they say] that sense of ďIndian warriors.Ē I think it was an old stereotype, too. Like in the movies--from World War Two movies; every squad had an Indian in it named Chief. It didnít really bother me. I guess my reaction to it was, ďIím not in the Navy. Iím not a Chief Petty Officer. Iím me. Iíve got a persona.Ē You get it nowadays at National Veteransí things. But I guess there was a little hint of respect in it also. It wasnít totally derogatory.
[The] question about light or heavy combat; I can say I shot at people and they shot at me. I knew how to survive the war but not how to survive the peace.
I was inducted right here in Minneapolis. I was out ricing, I was five days late for the Marine Corps. I signed up on that delayed entry program. Hell, I couldnít leave, it was right in the middle of ricing. My dad scarfed me up and told me I had an obligation there.
I knew my unclesí histories, what wars they fought in. I had one uncle who had his hand blown off by a grenade. So I knew the family history; even the town history. I was in the Marine Corps for four years before I went over there. They came out with an involuntary extension. I think it was because of the landing at Da-Nang; Operation Starlight. So all of a sudden they need a lot more grunts. So, for four years before I had been a peace time grunt; I was in the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. For those four years we did nothing but constantly train for war; until the Cuban Missile Crisis got close, a comical situation there. So by the time Vietnam came about, I was ready; I was primed. I was lean and mean and young and could run all day; running up and down those hills at Camp Pendleton. Carry a pack and a rifle, you know, the usual stuff; I used to feel proud because I could beat everybody to the top of that hill.
* * * * *
We got some 122 rockets the first night [in country]. Thatís those big mothers. Well, they were hitting kind of far off. It wasnít a close explosion where there is mass confusion. They were far off where you could hear them. I think I sais something like, ďMrs. Northrup what did your baby boy do now?Ē Youíre the one that wanted to come over here. So when they came out with that extension I said, ďWell if I add eight more months to my enlistment, Iíll have enough time to fight this war Iíve been preparing for. So the attitude in country was, ďItís not a very good war, but itís the only one we haveĒ; you know, the Marine Corps gung ho spirit.
When you first get shot at, itís disbelief; theyíre not really shooting at me are they? Wait a minute; I didnít do anything to piss you off! Then after youíre in country for a while you can tell the difference between the ones that are ten feet over your head Ėthey kind of buzz. But when they are talking to you ďSNAP,Ē itís like that. I still do it today; I just automatically turn my head to gunfire. You think like a grunt; like fields of fire, covering, concealment. You check it out from a combat perspective; what are you in danger from, there is an open field on the rightÖ I [still] do that walking in the woods. Even on a lake; I donít like to go in the middle of the lake, I like to hang around the shore.
It doesnít take much [to trigger a flashback]óa smell, a sound. Like I was over at the factory, and they had some sheet steel; they dropped it on the concrete floor and it sounded like an 81-mm mortar going off when those two base plates hit together, that clanging sound. Just riding behind a bus; that diesel sometimes smells like an Amtrak or a tank. And sounds; choppersÖ I was out working on a job and we were building a basement. It was my job to build the post pits for the jack posts that support the house. And I was out there digging one afternoon and some choppers come over. Before I realized it, I had made that post pit into a fighting positionÖ I kept going down. I started thinking about a grenade or something then I said, ďWait a minute, itís going to take a yard of concrete to fill that thing, so I kind of come back to the real world. It was a hot day and I heard some choppers. I could tell they were Hueys; I heard them go over and here I was in a very familiar environment digging a hole. So a guy on the crew laughed about that and teased me about it; ďHe thinks heís back in Vietnam, look at that fighting hole.Ē
I donít find [it] hard at all [to get close to people since Iíve been back]. Iíve been close to a lot of women, but none of them stick for very long. And I think thatís got to do with my emotional coldness. I think since the war Iíve just been cruising along; no highs, no lows. I know the right time to feel the emotions; go to a funeralóyou feel sad, you watched your son being bornóyou feel happy. I know thatís the right time to feel those things, but I donít really feel them. I just cruise through. I wake up in the morning, Iím homeógood; wake up in the morning, Iím in jailóno big thing.
The thousand yard stareÖ I guess itís when you take a mind trip; you donít focus thousand yards away, but youíre actually trying to see thousand yards within your head. Youíre thinking about, oh, what was the weather like the day that guy got shot off the tank? Or, what was it like coming back to the world? Or, what was it like going back to Nam after R and R? Just take that little mind trip, mental trip; thatís what that thousand yard stare means. I know there are some vets that have that thousand yard stare all the time.
I donít know where the term comes fromÖ Nightmares, I donít have nightmares as much as I use to. I think writing about it helps. Flashbacks, the way I understand the term flashbacks is when you are back into a combat situation and it lasts for a long time, like five minutes or so; or even longer. I donít know if watching a coke can jump off the floor and instantly reminding me of riding in a helicopter qualifies as a flashback or not. I was hunting with my cousin and he shot at a duck from behind me, and I didnít know he was going to shoot. But when that round went off I did a dive and rolled and I came up pointing at him. So I donít like to hunt too much anymore.
[When I came back from Vietnam] I jumped right into the
working world; I didnít come back to the rez. When I came back to the
rez, I became a deputy sheriff. I used my gun once as a cop; I shot out
this guyís tire. I felt happy about it because I only shot his tire; I
didnít draw down and shoot anymore. The sheriff asked me, he was
driving the squad car, ďDid you take out that rear tire?Ē
I said, ďYa.Ē
ďDid you ever use a shotgun like that before?Ē
ďYa, I carried one like this in Nam not too long ago.Ē
The reason I like that kind of work is because of the adrenalin rush. Iíve heard someone use the term ďadrenalin junkie.Ē After that rush of combat or contact firefights, itís pretty exciting. Thereís not too much that compares with it.
Being a policeman is kind of like making those judge, jury, and executioner decisions right here. But I was glad to see that I could handle that gun in a tense situation and not go completely bananas; like you say, ďRock Ďní roll.Ē So I think that was part of the individual adjustment that every veteran has to make; you know, you all have your separate journeys back. I think itís important not to stuff those memories and keep them locked up in your head with that thousand yard stare. I think you should go out and talk with people that would understand, that were in similar situations. Whether they are white, whether they are Indian; find someone that you can talk to and just spread them out on the table. It does a lot for making the nightmares go away.
My grandma use to send me maple sugar cakes made from sap she boiled down, and Iíd make one sugar cake last a month. Every other day or so Iíd take a little pinch, and that taste would brig me back to the reservation. It was the taste of cold mornings, big wood fires, and slipping up and down the trails carrying sap. Even though I was where it was 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity, just a little tasteÖ But it was dangerous over there because of the situation; it was easy to get into that frame of mind, ďWell, I came here to die, so I donít care what happens.Ē I think itís called fatalistic; I feel I can do anything I want. It doesnít matter, you expect yourself to die. So it doesnít matter what you do. You take chances; you do things you wouldnít normally do. Then I think later they call it bravery or something. But then, itís dangerous because a guy can get hurt when youíre in that frame of mind. And there are a lot of people that did get hurt when they did get in that frame of mind.
One time we were being mortared and I was in that attitude, ďI donít give a shit, let them drop a round on my back.Ē I wasnít going to get down in that hole with the other guys. I was laying on my rubber mattress; it was the only rubber mattress in the whole company. Then one of those guys told me, ďHey, that shrapnel is going to cut a hole in that mattress.Ē I said, ďHoly cripes!Ē I pulled the pin and jumped in the hole; I dragged my rubber lady with me. So when you get into that frame of mind, you know, ďI donít care if they drop it on my back, just donít knock a hole in my mattress.Ē
[I didnít do drugs,] I was too scared of that stuff. I use to trade my beer away. Like once a week, everyone was issued two cans of beer, but I never got into that. There was marijuana use there; you could buy a pack of marijuana cigarettes. I donít think it was as wild as it was in the later years from what Iíve heard. It was available. We use to laugh about guys standing in the smoke when we were burning the villages; ďGet out of that smoke!Ē Drinking and drugs werenít a problem when I was there. It was later on.
* * * * *
Thereís this World War Two guy here. I used to work with him, and heís a quartermaster over at the vets club down here and he talked to me about joining. He said I was eligible. I said itís mostly World War Two guy, and so I was kind of ambivalent about it. One day he showed up and said itís only twelve dollars. He said, ďI paid your membership; hereís your card.Ē So I never renew it, I just go down there and drink. I got kind of a welcome home feeling as a vet last November in D.C., then again in Chicago in July; couldnít buy a beer in Washington D.C., couldnít pay for a meal. You know that guy that made that sculpture of the three guys (An Anglo, a Chicano, and a Black), he bought us a round or two. I think there should be a skin up there.
It seems like in the service there was always Indians you would find right away whether they were guys in another company or something like that. Or, youíd see them in the mess hall. Right away youíd spot another Indian, and youíd go over. And regardless if they were from Arizona, South Dakota, or New York, or whatever, there was always that kinship. Youíre always on the look for one. So, I use to hang out with a Comanche and a Navajo. We use to drink wine down at San Clemente where Nixon later built his house.
I think that the longer Iím out, the more fonder my memories of my five years and nine days when I was in the Marine Corps. But Iíve run into a stone wall with my dealings with the Veterans Administration.
It was back in September of í66 and I thought I had control of things, for about six months. Then I look back and think there was something wrong. I couldnít sleep; the least little noise would wake me up. I stay drunk all the time, or stoned, or something; I didnít want to be there anyway. So I knew there was something wrong. So I went to the VA in Chicago, Illinois, and I told them I wanted to talk to somebody. And they said they couldnít really help me because Vietnam wasnít a war at the time or some reason like that. They were sympathetic and gave me a photocopy of the yellow pages of shrinks in the community and said take your pick. So I picked a name off there that was kind of close to my house and I went to see this guy and we gained a rapport talking back and forth for about four sessions. He told me all about his life, his problems about when he was in the military, and his relationship with his mother; just on and on. I was really learning a lot about the dude, but we werenít talking about me; and he was charging me fifty dollars and hour. I went there four times. I was making $125 a week then. So I was giving this guy a lot of bread to listen to his life story. Finally, I said, ďWeíre not talking anything about me.Ē I said, ďI canít afford this anymore.Ē So I quit. And he said come back if you need me and all that.
Then I was reading the paper about six weeks later and I read where he shot himself in his office. Then I felt bad about that. I left all those guys in Vietnam to die, watched a lot of people die over there, and I come back to the real world and I felt bad about my shrink shooting himself. Damn, if I only had a better job I could have helped the guy. So, I kind of stayed away from the VA after that little incident.
* * * * *
I think when they start talking that much money, it loses its humanness or the people part of it and it just becomes a big political football. A couple of years ago they did a screening in Fort Snelling for Agent Orange. I was going down there to see if I had any because Iíve done a lot of reading about it, and I understand that it lodges in the fatty tissue of your body and just stays there. Your body canít excrete whatever that poison is. So I was curious about whether I had it or not. My kids have all been okay; no genetic problems. I was curious because I know that sometimes they spray herbicides around here, and there might be a chemical similar to this dioxin that they talk about. So I was wondering if you have a certain amount in your body, and youíve been okay with that level. If youíre exposed to some of the spray around here thatís similar, is that enough to tip you over to a critical level and poison you, cause cancer and all that stuff? But I found out that the VA was doing the study down there without actually telling you whether you were exposed or not. They just wanted to get a pile of computer numbers.
I could have been in a sprayed area over there; I donít know. I was in a lot of areas. I was around airstrips, I was around roads, I was in the bush, the rice paddies.
My experience with the VA is the lower level people that you deal with initially, are friendly, are warm, are human, are caring. But the somewhere along the line, a layer of bureaucracy, it becomes policies instead of people. But the people that you initially run into are the grunts of the outfit, doing their job.
* * * * *
I grew up in boarding schools and on the rez, and I guess in those days you didnít have entertainment like we have today. The big entertainment was to stand around and telling stories whether it was a drinking party or out ricing. Itís real common to slip into storytelling and I can name guys going back to World War One; the warriors, the vets from all the wars all the way through. And I listened to these stories, and I said Iím from here, Iím a warrior; I come from a long line of warriors going back to when the Chippewa were fighting the Sioux and before. So I feel like Iím part of that line, but here is where it gets kind of crazy; I donít want my son to do that. I want him to break that line.
To fight a political war like Vietnam gave me an exposure
to combat line of warriors have had, but it was a purposeless war. So
you've got the combat experience, but I don't want my son going to get
his combat experience in Nicaragua or wherever the policy makers want to
send these young guys. If itís to be a fight, itís got to be worth a
fight. Take care of business at home before you go and export your
warriors. I have a son that's fifteen, and he wants to go and I keep
telling him; you know he's come under the influence of Rambo and things
and I see this; it's real common among the age group that idealizes the
military and that way of life.
They don't know what it's like to throw a body-bag on a helicopter, or a stretcher on a helicopter. I wish there was some way I could explain that to him. It's not all fun and games, itís deadly serious business; making decisions that you are going to be feeling twenty years later. I told my kids that I would break their kneecaps first [before sending them to fight in Nicaragua]. Thereís enough things to take care of here without exploiting your youngest, strongest, and finest to support some kind of political idea out of Washington.
It was freaky enough in Vietnam to shoot at those people and then to look at them because they had almost the same color skin, same color hair, and eyes. And the spirit they had of making do with what they had; kind of like Indian peopleóreally primitive at times, but making do. They would come up to me and speak Vietnamese to me. In the other countries I was in people would speak their language to me in Panama, TaiwanóJapan, Okinawa, Hong Kongópeople would come up and start speaking to me like I was one of the natives. The Indians just kind of blended in with the rest of the world. So Iíd answer in Ojibwa, and weíd look at each otheróconfusion.
I never carried any ears. I've seen guys that would do it, and after awhile they'd smell. No matter how much salt you put on them, theyíd smell. Weíd tell them go on, get out of here. Get that smell out of here, like you holler at a dog; that was the kind of attitude. But there were people like that. This guy was a second squad leader; he was a Chinook from, well, I donít remember, but he looked like a kind of a surfer guy; Blond hair, blue eyes, all American, clean cut kid. We were supposed to go into a landing zone. We were getting ready to get on to choppers, and everybody is cleaning their rifles, sharpening knives, and this clean cut surfer guy was over there pounding on a rock. And theyíd say, ďWhatís wrong with you? Everyone else is getting ready; this shit is going to hit!Ē he looked at me kind of funny and he says, ďIt takes longer to go throughĒ (referring to his knife); clean cut all American lad. I heard they made him a gate sentry when he came back to the world. Somebody blew through his gate, they shot through without stopping. He pulled his .45óboom, boom, boom. I guess they took him away like that! (in a straight jacket).
I ran into' this guy from San Diego. He's from a rez so
small you can throw a rock across it. We spotted each other from across
a crowded room; there was something familiar about his eyes. He comes
up to me and says, ďArenít you Northrup?Ē
I said, ďYa.Ē
ďDonít you remember me, Rosalez, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines?Ē
I started thinking back, ďYa, I remember you.Ē
He says, ďI'm still kind of mad that you gave me a flack jacket with a bullet hole in it.Ē
I started thinking, damn ďIt must have worked; youíre here.Ē It was kind or funny, the memory he carried of the war. To me it was just something that happened, you know. I donít even remember it, but for the last twenty years he carried around that memory of the other Indian guy that gave him a flack jacket with a bullet hole in it. So I sent him all my slides; he kept a bunch of them and made copies of them. Itís one thing to sit around and talk with vets that were in your same level of combat or same time period, but it's a little more personal when you can sit around and say, ďRemember the day OíConnor got it?Ē
I think one thing I forgot to say about, 1924 the U.S. Congress passed an act making all Indian people citizens of this country. But it wasn't until sometime later, and I can relate to this very well. In 1952, the state of Minnesota made it legal for Indians to buy alcohol. I wish they would have never made it legal. Because alcohol has been on the rez here an area where our people totally misuse it and as a result have damaged our people.
I know there is a statue now in D.C. Throughout the country when I travel I find that most tribes had a great deal of involvement in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and not much recognition at all; Recognition to the respect that they served from a state or something like that--Our news reporter Jim Northrup, a veteran from VietnamÖ I can think right off the top of my head of twenty people around this rez that have no recognition.
Well Iíve heard it said this way that most Indian people by virtue of their culture and their religion, believe thatís a must and that itís something that you donít really expect to get recognized for. You serve because you believe this is your land and that you fight for it. And I think that itís a carryover from when the Indian tribes were fighting for their homeland after the coming of the Pilgrims. They even fought other tribes for it because they were being bottlenecked. As I was saying that the Ojibwa people believe that this is their country and homeland, when itís being invaded or jeopardized there is no thought given; we will serve to protect our homeland. Thereís not much recognition for Indian involvement in any of those wars. Itís just kind of you to serve cuz you know thatís what youíre supposed to do.
Every time there is an honor song at a ceremony, Iím proud to dance that honor song for vets because Iím one of the fortunate ones who returned safely, and I always think about those who did not return as I dance the vet song. And no matter where I am I get up and proudly make at least one round of the drum for the Veteran Song.
There are a lot of Vietnam vets that are dead now. They survived the war but didnít survive the peace. I heard National stats that say that more Vietnam vets have killed themselves than are inscribed on that wall in Washington. Iíve heard of vets killing themselves at the wall; joining their buddies, I guess, except their names will never be on that wall. I think [POWs and MIAs are] a continuation of the same problem. In all wars; WWI, WWII, and Korea, there were prisoners that werenít returned. Itís a continuation of the same problem. I donít like the official government policy that says there arenít any more. Itís like the official government policy not to recognize Red China; thereís billions of people just saying they donít exist, theyíre not recognizing them. So I think the government is not recognizing that there are POWs over there; I believe there are.
[As for healing oneself,] Iíve talked to medicine men about it. Iíve talked to other vets about it. And like I said earlier, whatever trail you take coming back from the war, you have to decide for yourself. Iím sure for some people a spiritual ceremony alone is enough. And other people need rap sessions with other vets; some people might need hospitalizationÖwhatever trailÖ kind of brings me back to my early childhood as I listened to my grandmother talk about the involvement of Ojibwa people with the other tribes people in this area as they were forced into the same homeland which happened to be the Sioux. There was a conflict as a result of that between the Ojibwa and the Sioux right at the Minneapolis-St. Paul area; what we now call Minnetonka. The clash caused the Ojibwa to run the Sioux out of the area. And it seems like in some cases, I believe the reason that happened was that the Ojibwa people were exposed to fur trade long before the Sioux were. And the Ojibwa being victorious in that battle talk about what happened there. Itís common in the circles of Indian talk where a person sort of brags about his adventures, and it was told in Ojibwa that after the battle this gentleman expended so many arrows and so many bullets, and his tracks are all over the hill. So you might say the guy was telling a war story about how involved he was in that battle. I remember that quite clearly as told to my mother from her grandmother. But I think if we talk about the wars there, after the involvement and conflict, the Ojibwa people were first of all a peaceful people. But when the country was being threatened by outside influences, as I can remember WWII told to me by my parents, my uncles, my father, my fatherís friends all served in those encounters. And the people, as they returned to the Rez, didnít get much of a welcome even as far back as WWI, WWII. I remember as a child at home seeing three stars in the window of my home indicating three brothers and many of their friends, uh, there hasnít been much of an acknowledgement of that involvement of Indian people in wars.
I just come to realize how much my father was effected, how much he carried, how much responsibility he carried with him, and not wanting his family to be burdened with it. My dad was real gentle. He played with us kids, went sliding with, and all this. And when I think about my father now and as we grew up, and the respect he always had at powwows; he was always the first one there when they had flag raisings ceremonies. He was just so proud to be a veteran. I know Iíve seen him with tears in his eyes, and I think now the tears that he had in his eyes were from the responsibilities from what he experienced. And I think those responsibilities if he could have, like teachings, if he could have passed those on, it would have helped; not just himself, but it would have helped the whole family understand what he was going through. We could have helped, but we didnít know. We didnít know because he was real quiet; he chose to carry that himself.
Having known Jim before, as compared to now, it was like he was, like how my dad was before, when he didnít share that much. And now, through the years of dealing with the different areas in his life and how the Vietnam War affected him and how he is able to be proud, be proud to have had those experiences, having teachings that he can help others and help families to understand really whatís happening inside. And I think thatís what I meant by saying, by looking at ourselves, our own weaknesses, and facing them right on, and that being a strength; I guess itís kind of like an open wound. Just to be going through the healing process and knowing the scar is still there, but yet it doesnít hurt as much; itís kind of like that.
Iím not Crazy Horse
Iím not Sitting Bull
Iím not Ira Hayes
Being called Chief
is not an honor
like you think.
ďHey, do you know this guy
we called him Chief
he was Choctaw, Cherokee
Cheyenne or something.Ē
Iím not a code talker
your schools robbed
me of the language
I used to have.
Iím no braver nor
more of a coward
When I took the
green uniform off
I could be Indian again.
With his asshole puckered up tight,
the Marine was walking light,
He was hunting men,
who were hunting him.
His rifle was in perfect order,
he wasn't - fear, fear of not feeling fear,
the heat, mud, and mosquitoes
all addled his brain housing group
as he walked and thought along.
Thou shalt not kill,
that stuff didn't work here,
God must have stayed back
in the real world.
Is any of this real?
Is this a green nightmare
I'm going to wake up from?
He sang to himself as
his senses gathered evidence
of continued existence
His eyes saw, his ears heard,
his heart felt a numb nothing,
his mind analyzed it all
as he studied the trail
He amused himself as he walked along
the old story about bullets, Ha.
Don't sweat the one that's got your
name on it, worry about the one addressed:
To Whom It May Concern.
On another level his mind churned with
Rifle, M-14, Caliber 7.62 mm, a gas operated,
magazine fed, air cooled, semi-automatic,
Weight-12 pounds with 20 rounds
Sustained Rate of Fire-30 rounds per minute
Effective range-460 meters
or, Hand Grenade, M-26,
and so on and on and on.
Movement!, something is moving up there!
Drop to the mud, rifle pointing at the unknown,
Looks like two of them, hunting him.
They have rifles but he saw them first.
The Marine Corps takes over,
Breathe, Relax, Aim, Slack, Squeeze.
The shooting is over in five seconds,
the shakes are over in a half hour,
the memories are over, never.