Ivan F. Star Comes Out. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Ivan Star Comes Out: Only dictators demand for their citizens to 'respect the flag'

I respect the president’s office, but not the extremist occupying it

By Ivan Star Comes Out
Native Sun News Today Columnist

I attended a parochial reservation boarding school for ten years. There, I had to pledge my allegiance to the flag every morning before classes began and had to attend church services seven days a week and twice on Sunday and prayed and sang hymns in Latin. I was forbidden to speak my first language and was forced to learn English. I dropped out in 1965 and went home.

Then one day, one of the older high school graduates came home in a casket draped with an American flag. Daniel Stands was the first of nine Oglala from the Pine Ridge Reservation to be killed in Vietnam. His death brought the war into the consciousness of the Oglala. A deluge of young men ensued as many volunteered for military service and most went to Vietnam.

Like so many before me, I enlisted and served three years in the military and placed my life on the line in Vietnam. Like many surviving veterans today, I lost friends and actually conceded to the likelihood that I too wouldn’t be going home alive. It is strange how all this seems to have happened yesterday.

I’ll never forget the fact that we did not fight for a national cause, like the flag or the national anthem, in Vietnam. I wasn’t aware that we were actually fighting a rich man’s war as opposed to fighting for a national cause. I simply did what was expected of me. There are some who would and have said I am stupid. I may have been naïve, but I was a soldier in the middle of a war.

When my 12-month tour of duty ended, leaving that place was not what I had expected. Some of the guys counted the days they had left to that one day they would go home. I was relieved and eager to go home but was overwhelmed by a feeling of guilt for surviving when so many did not. I felt as if I were abandoning the rest since they were still engaged and dying.

Perhaps this is why I have no memory of leaving Vietnam. My memory gradually returned in bits and pieces on the way home. One of the first things I saw was war protestors who vehemently called us “Baby Killers” and “War Mongers.” A few years later, I learned older war veterans shunned and chastised us for losing the war and bringing shame on the United States military.

Its true America did not win the war but those of us who were there didn’t lose it. With the world’s most advanced technology, weaponry, and training we won every firefight and combat operation we engaged in. The “armchair” politicians in Washington are the guilty ones. They’re the ones who lost to Ho Chi Minh’s clever political maneuvering. Coming home to the Pine Ridge, I was honored by my family at a powwow. I was welcomed home just like other veterans before me. However, I could not feel genuine pride or honor for having been an active participant in the war.

First and foremost, my service did not change the mainstream hatred that goes with “Indian.” I knew there was more to being called “Indian” but my boarding school experience obliterated my culture and my identity. At the same time I was cognizant of the fact that my ancestors were not “dirty,” “ugly,” “dumb,” “drunken,” or ruthless “savage” killers.

I grew my hair and spent the rest of my life relearning my culture and re-establishing my true identity. At the same time, nearly every day for the next 46 years, I endured the hate-filled acts of people who deem themselves superior to people of color. Every job application was accompanied by the reputed “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” As expected, I was never notified as to whether I got the job or not.

Poor service (or mistreatment) was a common occurrence at white-owned restaurants, medical facilities, grocery stores, car dealerships, sports events, and just about every other place in this country. The fact that “Indians” died so I could enjoy the supposed “freedoms” and rights under a democratic constitution didn’t seem to matter. It was as if I didn’t exist.

Having been raised by my mother, aunt, and grandmother in a cultural setting, I still have trouble today accepting the fact that the human mind could harbor and exude so much hatred. They always told me to be wary of the “Lulu man.” This name was their way of gently bringing the reality of the white man’s avarice and vindictiveness into view.

Now we have a dictator demanding citizens to “respect the flag” by coercing them to stand during the national anthem. I believe Hitler did the very same thing and so did Mussolini, Stalin, Tojo, and all the dictators of the world since. I thank those members of congress for standing in the way of this egotistical bigot’s irrational dislike and fear of people who are different in color.

I respect the men and women who died fighting under the U. S. flag, which includes my blood relatives. However, I believe respect is earned and when I am forced to respect something, I will resist. I have no respect for an individual who avoided military service and is a clear-cut racist. All the money in the world will not change my perspective.

Support Native media and the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: I respect the president’s office, but not the extremist occupying it

Ivan F. Star Comes Out can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Oglala, South Dakota, 57764; via phone at 605-867-2448 or via email at mato_nasula2@outlook.com.

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today

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