With this past Veteran’s Day, I want to write first about the old Lakotas before and after the European invasion when my people were a complete and whole society. Then I want to write about experiences that were told to me and my own service in the Navy.
Before the Europeans came into our lives our warriors supplied the meat and defended us against our enemies. Our leaders and chiefs were brave men who had respect for acts of bravery, even with our enemies, we never had a chief who was a coward.
Once assimilation happened, I think about when our men who were in the Armed Forces had to fight for our freedom. They didn’t enjoy the same benefits as the rest of the people in our country did. Especially during World War I and II where our United States freedom was at stake, as opposed to some of the more recent wars over seas. Our recent service men have fought in wars of choice, but they are heroes none the less.
Victor Swallow. Photo
courtesy Native Sun News
My grandfather Oliver Swallow had 12 grandsons and ten of us served our country. His youngest son Woodrow Swallow was 17 years old when he joined the Navy. Grandpa had to sign for Uncle Woodrow to join. He was in Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. I remember when my father John Swallow would talk about Uncle Woodrow being in Pearl Harbor and only 17 years old he would get choked up saying, “He was just a boy.”
When I joined the Navy in 1960, and when I came home on leave to Red Shirt Village, people came out of their homes and lined up to shake my hand. I didn’t realize how my own people felt about my service in the military and them making a point to look me in the eye and shake my hand made me feel honored.
My cousin Robert Two Bulls said people did the same thing for him when he came back on leave from the Korean War in the early 1950s. At the end of the people his Grandpa Sam Helper came out of his daughter Martha’s house with his drum and sang an honoring song for him. I thought that was very special.
Cousin Robert said his Grandpa Sam Helper was from the Hump family from the Cheyenne River Reservation and was born in the 1870s.
Sam’s name originally was Hump. He could have been at Little Big Horn as a little boy. Last year I heard Donovin Sprague speak at the Journey Museum. He talked about The Battle of Greasy Grass and Little Big Horn. He mentioned Crazy Horse and Chief Hump and others too.
Sam Helper lived through some hard times and understood the meaning of being a brave warrior. My parents moved to Red Shirt Village for four years, 1947-1951.
I remember hearing Sam singing at dawn and then again at dusk. I often wondered what he was singing about. Was he singing about the past, present or future? Was it a prayer?
I know it was a tradition. Still to this day I wonder what was so important that he would consistently sing at every dawn and dusk.
Victor D. Swallow was born in 1939, Oglala Lakota, U. S. Navy Veteran, 50 year member of Bricklayers Union, Optimistic realist and fair. Victor can be reached at his daughter’s email address at email@example.com
Copyright permission Native Sun News Today
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