From the beginning, Native
Americans have participated in wars fought by this country,
side by side with all people of color. They have done so with
pride and patriotism. Native Americans set the standard for
minorities in terms of the numbers who volunteered to serve in
the Vietnam War. They served in a disproportionately high
number of combat positions, one-in-four compared to
one-in-twelve for the rest of the population.
More than 41,500 American Indians served in the armed forces
during the Vietnam War. The cultural traditions that have
guided them may, in part, explain this outstanding
record of volunteer service. The Vietnam War was the first to
integrate troops. People of all colors fought side by side. In
combat, many overcame racial biases.
Because large numbers of Native Americans served in combat
roles, there were many casualties. Native Americans suffered
from high rates of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and health
problems related to Agent Orange, malaria, and dengue fever.
Racial injustice also occurred. Imagine growing up in a
culture that embraces a warrior society and being told to
"saddle up, you are in Indian Country now." They saddled up,
but some felt confused; others felt angry. They put aside
their feelings in order to carry out the order of the day.
On February 14, VVA honored Native American Vietnam veterans
at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence Kansas.
Haskell opened in 1884 to 22 American Indian children. When
the school expanded its program and renamed itself the United
States Indian Industrial Training School, enrollment went from
22 to 400 during a single semester. For 120 years, Haskell,
now a fully accredited four-year university, has provided an
education for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
As Region 6 Director and a member
of the Minority Affairs Committee, I felt it was time for
recognition. At half time during a men's basketball game,
the Haskell Veterans Honor Guard set the stage for a special
recognition program. VVA Kansas State Council President Mike
Kuhn and Missouri State Council President Al Gibson brought
many VVA members to participate in this special ceremony.
Karen Gayton Swisher accepted the plaque and statue that we
presented to the university. Both will be displayed in the new
cultural center and museum. Athletic Director Dwight Pickering
introduced the VVA members to the teams and spectators and
permitted me to present our program. All veterans in
attendance were asked by the Haskell Veterans Club to come out
on the basketball floor to be recognized for their service.
The plaque inscription reads:
"Vietnam Veterans of America recognizes the selfless
dedication to duty to all Original Americans who bravely
served their country during the Vietnam War. Your inner
strength and grace is well known with all Vietnam Veterans.
Mere words will never properly express this long-overdue
gesture of gratitude from Vietnam Veterans of America and our
Presented by Vietnam Veterans of American Region Six and the
Minorities Affairs Committee."
The statue depicts an American Indian Vietnam veteran wearing
a bush hat, a bear claw necklace, and a pair of sunglasses,
with MACV and 1st Infantry patches. An Indian blanket shawl
wrapped around the base completes this piece. The colors mimic
the pastels of the New Mexico landscape. The sculptor, Barry
Coffin, is a well-known artist who grew up on the Haskell
campus and served two tours in Vietnam.
We were invited to attend a Pueblo Throw after the women's
basketball game. Throws are a way of giving thanks by tenderly
throwing food, candy, and other items into a crowd of people.
People who are given items consider it good fortune. Later, we
were invited to a powwow accompanied by drums and dancers that
gave all veterans spiritual recognition for their service. The
Haskell Veterans Club presented Region 6 with a wood-framed
glass engraving of its logo.
Virgil Allen, the director
of Facilities Management at Haskell, a Vietnam veteran, and
a Native American, helped coordinate this project. Allen
talked about the Veterans Club at Haskell and the statue it
has commissioned to honor the mothers who have had children in
the Armed Forces.
Additional information on Haskell Indian Nations University
can be found at its website,
For information on the mother's statue, contact Virgil Allen