Video by Indianz.Com: Native veterans wreath at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

A Veteran's Day Salute

There is one appropriate subject for this weeks’ column – a Veteran’s Day Salute and heartfelt thanks to our many heroes across the nation. Our attention focuses upon Native Americans, a well-known fact that among all ethnic groups, our people have the highest rate of voluntary service.

When I grew up, my father, who served honorably in WWII ever advised that upon meeting a Veteran, I should shake that hand and say “Thank you for your service to your country. Everyone, even those posted state-side in a supply station was a hero,” he reminded.

Dad was a hero, though growing up we never knew that. He served in the Devils Brigade, later featured in books and movies, an experiment to create a Special Force of tough guys who would do what had to be done, a volunteer unit of American/Canadians. Dad didn’t volunteer for that, simply answered one recruiter question wrong. “How would you like to do your basic training in Montana? The training base for that unit.)

A wreath in honor of Native veterans was placed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on November 1, 2019, to mark the start of Native American Heritage Month. The wreath was created by Shayai Lucero (Acoma Pueblo/Laguna Pueblo) at the request of Native employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Dad agreed, finding himself in a forward force in WW11, suffering an 8 percent casualty rate, fortunately, not him. Many years later, the entire Devil’s Brigade was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor through an act of Congress shepherded by US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), as many of those soldiers were Montanans.

But, many of our Veterans are unsung and so, I tell about Richard Schwartz who grew up in Prairie County, Montana with me. Richard, a full-blood Indian by appearance had been adopted by some white folks, pillars of the community, Dad a church deacon, Mom 4H leader and President of the Women’s Club. They also adopted Keith, a soon-to-be very sassy younger white kid.

Richard, the tall, strong, athletic and shy kid, became the slave; while Keith, was indulged. For example, when old enough for chores, Richard got a bike in order to rise at dawn, delivering the newspaper, while Keith got a motorcycle to quickly race to the grocery store, impressing girls.

It was not “cool” to be Indian in that part of Montana. Some white folks were still mad about Custer’s Last Stand and that is how I learned what a horrible word ‘Prairie Nigger’ is. I was one. But so was Richard and the few other kids of Native descent who lived there. So, we stuck together forming our own little Tribe.

Frequently, Richard and I would escape into nearby foothills, commiserating, looking forward to future escape. It fell to him to escort me to the prom, clad in a cast-off plaid jacket and tie while I wore the great second-hand dress Grandma found. We were not a big hit.

Richard was obviously Indian, but trouble was, he didn’t know what kind and if his step-parents knew, they wouldn’t tell. At least I knew about being Northern Cheyenne. We spent hours discussing his heritage possibilities, even venturing to the library to check out books featuring old Indian photos.


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