tomb of the unknown soldier wreath by shayai lucero
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, owner of Earth & Sky Floral Designs and Gallery in New Mexico) at the request of Native employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Notes from Indian Country
Thank you for your service
Monday, May 31, 2021

Perhaps because it is the Memorial Day weekend, this morning I woke up with the bugle call of “reveille” in my mind.

And then I heard the sound of the Boatswain Mate’s whistle echoing through the address system on the ship. “Reveille, Reveille, up all hands. Heave out, trice up. The smoking lamp is lighted in all authorized spaces.”

Reveille and taps were the two bugle calls that introduced us to our lives in the military. Reveille to wake us up and taps to put us to sleep. But taps was also the mournful bugle call we heard at the funerals of our fallen comrades.

It took me back to a time when we were marching in a driving rain on the grinders of the United States Navy Recruit Depot in San Diego. That early winter of 1952 it rained and it rained. Most of the guys in my company wore out at least two pair of boots in the 3 months we marched in that rain.

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

Our grinder was separated from the grinder of the U.S. Marine Corps Recruitment Center by a tall Euro steel fence. There were days we marched right next to their fence. The Marines were almost always marching in full combat gear with backpacks. We kind of felt sorry for them.

All though the Marines are technically a part of the U. S. Navy and often serve aboard ships at sea there is an almost comedic rivalry between the Marines and the Navy. We make crude jokes about each other.

For instance, in Navy jargon if you are in a big hurry, but still have to be nice and clean, but you just don’t have time for a shower, etc., you take a Marine bath: You wash what shows, powder what stinks, and run like hell.

On one big military base that housed the Marines, the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, there was the joke about telling time on the PA system. It went, “For the Navy, Army and Air Force, the time is now 1600 hours. For the Marines, the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the four.” I’m sure the Marines had some ditties about sailors that could top ours.

timgiago
Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

In the Navy we called the regular Army guys Beetle Crushers or Ground Pounders and we called the guys in the Air Force, Flaps or Air Heads. The common name given to Sailors by other branches of the military was swabbies, because we were always swabbing the deck.

In the Navy we didn’t have windows, we had port holes. We didn’t have walls, we had bulkheads, and we didn’t have pillars we had stanchions, and floors were decks and ceilings were overheads. We had two forms of Navy blue uniforms; dress blues and our undress blues. Most of the time we wore dungarees and chambray shirts. Of course we made sure they were bell-bottomed.

All of the idiosyncrasies between branches of the service disappeared in combat. We all stood together with a common purpose against a common enemy. And that’s what made us Americans. Native American service men and women are often asked, “Why did you choose to serve in the military of a country that has taken everything from you?” Most of us answer, “Because it is our country also.”

But that’s just a part of it. We also have grandparents, parents and children who are threatened by the enemy we fought against. And deep in our hearts, we are warriors. After all, Native Americans fought against the United States Army for more than 100 years.

As an example, on November 4, 1791, American Indians destroyed the United States Army, inflicting more than 900 casualties on a force of some 1,400 men. Proportionately it was the biggest military disaster the United States ever suffered. It was also the biggest victory American Indians ever won. Yet it was quickly consigned to the footnotes of history. This had been called the battle with no name because it was such a humiliating defeat for the first US Army ever assembled by the new country that most historians decided to erase it from history.

The history of Native Americans and the United States military goes all of the way back to the Revolutionary War. When it came to fighting a war against a foreign enemy, Native Americans have always fought alongside of their American friends.

We are proud to have served and often come home to honoring ceremonies that were denied to many non-Natives who came home from Korea and Vietnam. My Lakota name Nanwica KcijiStands Up For Them – was given to me by Enos Poor Bear in a ceremony that welcomed me back home from Korea. The same holds true for many Native American veterans.

I conclude with a tribute to all branches of the service: Semper Fi, Go Army, Anchors Aweigh, and Into the Wild Blue Yonder. Thank you for your service. And I hope you Jarheads forgive my silly jokes.


Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com