Word Count 500+
Warriors Among Us
My position at Herkimer Home brought me an unexpected bonus. One of our watchmen was a Cherokee who became my friend. Over the years I heard stories about what it was like to grow up on the reservation as well as details about his peak experience; being a soldier and a pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II.
This American Indian agonized once again telling of the Trail of Tears when “his people” were moved from the southeast United States to the government reservation at Tahlequah, Oklahoma. As a half breed, he was not allowed to learn male skills with the other boys during the working hours. He was required to spend that time with the women, learning their skills, which were considerable. Later he would practice the tracking, stalking, hunting, marksmanship on his own, developing his stalking skills until he could successfully execute the required touching of a wild deer.. Feathers were not worn for decoration. They had to be earned and were worn proudly as symbols of accomplishment. Physical endurance was expected.
As an abandoned child in the care of the tribe, he wasn’t sure of his identity or his age and so chose a name of an Indian hero as his own and guessed his age at 18 when he volunteered for the army. World War II stories spilled from his lips like a river and were retold as if they happened yesterday even though fifty years had passed. A cup of tea could suddenly bring back a vicious dogfight over Rangoon.
Learning to fly was one of his greatest joys and he had accumulated 18,000 hours when the war was over, more than the commercial pilot who retires at the end of a long career. More than once he would say shyly, “I was good.”
One of his more clandestine missions against the Japanese defies imagination. While assigned to an American destroyer, this man and ten others were tasked with eliminating a radio tower on a Japanese held island in the south Pacific. Waiting for a dark night, they went overboard to swim the mile to the beach. Since the Japanese patrols were always done in a single file of eleven men, they used the same formation, bending over to appear shorter. They dog trotted up to the radio tower, disposed of the guards, set the charges, trotted back still in single file and detonated the charge as they slipped into the sea to swim back to the ship. Comic relief overtook them as they rolled around the deck, laughing hysterically. The Stars and Stripes, the official Army newspaper, wrote this up and circulated it world wide.
When the war was over, the first place he visited was Telequah. Encircled by the chief, the elders, and the clan mothers, he was accepted into the tribe as a full blood warrior in tribute to his heroic, highly decorated military career. With tears in his eyes, he said it was the proudest moment of his life.
I asked this extraordinary man repeatedly to tape record his war stories for his grandchildren so they would know he was a hero. I never knew if he did or not. But now you can help by remembering this one feat out of many which were undertaken for our benefit by those warriors who came before us.