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October 20, 2021

Veterans News

Remember Everyone Deployed

Native American Veterans

15 min read

– Your support helps us bring you programs you love. Go to click on support and become a sustaining member or an annual member. It’s easy and secure. Thank you. – Just before veteran’s day, Wyoming Chronicle visits with Native American veterans who still call the Wind River Indian Reservation their home. We’ll ask the veterans about their service, and how it’s impacted their lives back on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Next, on Wyoming Chronicle. (dramatic music) – Funding for this program was provided in part by the Wyoming Public Television Endowment, and viewers like you. – Well, I’m John Wadda, I served with the US Army from 1965 to 67, and I was a draftee.

Only thing I remember is, probably still in my mind is probably going through the infiltration course, where they’re firing live rounds over there, while you’re crawling in through this infiltration course, and they’re firing live rounds over the top of ya. And, I went to basic with guys from around this area, you know, mostly from Wyoming. I remember some of those guys were from Cheyenne, Rawlins, Riverton. And we kinda all went down together, and we all got separated after basic training was over with. – Was it physically tough? – It was, yeah, because you had to go through infil– not infiltration but through the physical ed course, you know, running going through the cross bars and stuff like that.

Only thing that stands out is those 40 yard crawls through sand, you had to do that. Other than that, it was just kind of a blur, I guess it’s been so long ago, like going out to the rifle range and stuff like that, and doing live fire, and things like that. – What did you know about what was going on in the world then? Did you know what was happening? – Well I knew when I was in school, when I was in college, I knew when Kennedy got assassinated, I was in school at that time.

And we kinda thought something was gonna be coming out of that and came back and just kinda goofed around for a while, and got drafted. That’s when I went to the military then. – After basic training, did you come home for a little bit? – Just for a little bit, then I ended up in Alabama for – What happened when you landed there? – It was hot. It was hot and humid and different climate, different kind of people there, and you know, just the whole communities were different, because you’re used to to areas here but down there everything is kinda swampy and hot, humid, and I went down there with another guy from Sundance Wyoming. He was a good friend of mine, we kinda ended up down there together. – Was that as physically demanding? – What? – Was it as physically demanding? – It was a lot of reading, and hands on training on helicopters, so we had to learn how to maintain ’em and all that so, we knew once you were into the maintenance, as far as helicopters, where you’re gonna end up, and we knew were gonna all end up in Vietnam at some time.

Well, then I came home for just a little bit, and then I shipped out to Vietnam, and flew out of San Francisco, Travis Air Force Base. – What did your family tell ya, before you left? – Well, they just said, all you can do is take care of yourself and, you know, and remember your traditional ways as far as praying and things like that, so you have to, you have to keep that in mind all the time because of the, see I was brought up with my grandparents, who were very traditional, so you have to kinda maintain that keep that thought in your mind that someone’s out, you know, watching over you, which is very true, I think.

And my unit, I think there was only one other Native American Indian kid in there, and he was from, I think he was from northern Cheyenne, but he was in the maintenance area, but other than that, the majority of our company was probably either colored or other nationalities, you know, non Indian and those kind, I was about the only Indian in our unit, as far as the the helicopter units.

It’s kinda shock, because you’re not used to the weather, and it’s really humid, and especially down where we were in Vung Tau, you know, it was just like a resort city, that’s what the French used it for, but they had a big air field down there and that’s where we were stationed, Brightly Air Field. We were there for a short time, and a lot of us ended up in Bien Hoa, that’s where our main camp was, because that’s where, all the maintenance and everything was done on the helicopters there.

We were assigned to the 173rd Airborne, we flew support for the 173rd Airborne brigade. Well, we were out in the field just as much as the infantry was. When they’d go out in the field, we were out there with ’em, flying support, and we lived out there, just like they did. But we flew back and forth to pick up supplies, such as ammunition, water, things like that to fly back into ’em, so we flew everything from ice cream to prisoners to whatever, But it was, made you grow up, and you matured quick, especially when you’d take your first lift, when you’re dropping troops off and you’re receiving fire from the ground.

It kinda sobers you up a little bit, because you know someone’s out to do something to ya. After a while it just becomes routine, once you start, if you do, when you do it enough times. – What was it like to transport a prisoner? – Oh, they normally had an escort with ’em, who watched ’em, but we had to keep an eye on ’em too, once they got ’em off the chopper and everything. – Where did you take them? – We’d take ’em to where ever they were assigned to take ’em to, like their camp some where, and we’d just fly ’em there and they took over the rest to where ever they were going. We flew some wounded and that had, I mean we did all kinds of stuff, dropping off chain saws to infantry units who were in deep in the jungles where you couldn’t really land so you had to drop ’em down with ropes and everything, it was a, I mean there was something always happening different. – Did you ever take direct fire? – Yeah, we sure did, yeah – Did you – You expect that when you do, take the troops in in a lift, you’re gonna get ground fire, no matter for, you know, where you go.

Night time missions are just as bad, because you see tracers and all that, so you know it’s a, it’s kinda sobering thought to see all that, you know, and it makes you wonder, am I gonna be around tomorrow, stuff like that. – Did you ever think you weren’t going to be? – Well, I just kinda thought that you gotta think positive all the time. We had an incident where we were flying formation and something happened to one of the choppers, they had a problem with their rotor, something exploded up there that flipped over the top of the flight and crashed into the jungle all you could see was a big orange ball when it hit, and it killed everybody that was in there, and I knew some of those guys, so but you just gotta continue with what you’re supposed to be doing, so I mean, you do all kinds of things, you know, fly out captured weapons, things like that, take people out on what they call long range patrols, you go drop them of the middle of nowhere, and you gotta once they holler for help you gotta go pick them up, regardless where they are.

That’s a different experience, because you start hovering down into those jungles, it’s dark down there, and the elephant grass is so tall, but you gotta get ’em into the ship to rescue ’em, basically, so we done that a few times too. I really didn’t know what was happening here until we got back. And even here in the city of Riverton, we were getting harassed because of the other Vietnam war, and some of the guys I served with, later on they were being called baby killers and all this stuff and what really bothered me, is a lot of those people to this day they still bothered me, is the people who ran off to Canada and stayed out of the draft and all that and yet they come back saying they’re violating my rights.

What rights? You burned your draft card and you left. What rights are you talking about? It still bothers me today, to hear that. Even with the things happening right now, because everybody is so narrow minded, they’re all victims to my mind, everybody’s a victim and with that war it was just something that, it was more of a political war than anything because there were things we couldn’t do that we should have done, more or less it was kinda dictated from DC what we could do, with congress and all that.

The military really had their hands tied, I thought, because they couldn’t do a lot of things. – How frustrating was that for you, during your service? – It’s frustrating because you run into a lot different things that you could have done something about, but you couldn’t fire this, you couldn’t do that, and and it really cost a lot of lives, I thought. That’s just my thought. The guys from here who went, a lot of ’em were subjected to a lot of different things when they got back to, and we uh, my brother was there was there, my brother-in-law was there, I gotta couple three four good friends who were there, and from the reservation there was a lot of us who were in Vietnam, different branches and different areas.

When you got back here, you had even your own tribal people sayin’ things about you. Just ’cause they didn’t go, they didn’t know what it was about, they were just listening to what they heard on TV and things like that. So they made a lot of comments that they didn’t know anything about. – That had to hurt. – It does, because, but you just learn to ignore it, and just to go on with your life, cause it’s over with, it happened in the past, you can’t go back and change that.

– My name’s Tony Aragon I served in the Marine Corps in 1951 and 1952. I was at Indian school in South Dakota, I don’t really remember the year there. Was a senior there, bunch of guys got together and joined up. There were 16 of us started, but 6 of us only went on (laughs) They shipped us to, I believe it was Omaha, put us on a train, sent us to California Camp Pendleton. Our San Diego boot camp, a lot of hollerin’ and movin’ people around, marchin’ us ’round here and there, givin’ us a uniforms, and then they started doing all their stuff, put us in the, to get us used to tear gas, you had to run to the door and take your mask off and give us your name and serial number which was hard to remember then. – What did you know about the military, before then? – Nothing, only what I seen on the newspaper. It said, join with your friends and serve with your friends. But as soon as we got there, we were all split up. Boot camp was run, six weeks maybe longer, I don’t quite remember, but it was long enough to wish you hadn’t joined.

(laughs) – Did you wish you hadn’t joined? – Well it makes ya think of home when you’re gettin’ up certain times, and goin’ to bed at certain times, getting cussed out every once in a while (laughs) – Did you miss home already? – Well, I was used to being away from home, I was, boarding school, I was in Saint Stevens Michigan, so I was kinda used to being away from home. Wasn’t very long after that that they put us on board a ship in San Diego and send us over.

Took us 12 days to cross the ocean, I know that. – Where were you going? – Went to Japan first, and then from Japan we went to Puchong Korea, that’s on the very tip of the peninsula. And from there we stayed in tents til they give us what outfit we was gonna be in, and then they put us on the airplane and flew us up there. I don’t know, I never really, I never even thought about war or anything, it was still kind of a game to me (laughs) until we got there, and then it was different. When we landed up there, they unloaded us, we didn’t waste no time gettin’ outta there and tryin’ to get behind something. But then they put you in a company that they wanted you to be in, I don’t know how they ever figured that out. Seemed like they took the smallest guy and made him pack all the heavy stuff (laughs) – Hopefully you weren’t the smallest guy in your unit.

– Well I was just about, I guess (both laugh) I was lucky to get put into a, called it ammunition company, they brought in ammo and restocked it, explosives, and if they needed it on the line, we had to keep ’em in explosives and ammunition and I don’t know different kinds of explosives. – What was your understanding of what America was trying to do at that time? – I couldn’t really answer that, I don’t believe. Cause I never paid much attention what was going on just that they needed volunteers, guys to join the service. That’s about what knew about it. – How close did you get to combat? – ‘Bout from here to that wall over there I guess. – What was that like, for you? – To me it was still kind of a game. Until the dirt started flying, then I knew it was, everything was serious. But I was lucky to get in one outfit that at least we got a good warm meal every day.

But it’s whenever they needed anything like that, explosives and stuff, we had to take it to ’em. – What did your family and friends think about your service? – I don’t know if they even knew I was gone. Cause I left right from school. Never did go home til it was all over with. – Did you know that you were signing up for the military? – I don’t know, they don’t tell you anything like that (laughs) No they didn’t – So after you signed that paper, what happened? – Well Uncle Herman came and told us, I wasn’t alone there was a lot of others, he said you boys be ready tomorrow, put on the best clothes you got, and we’re gonna take you to Lander.

And I know that one woman was one of ’em. And later on I found out that her name was Helen Petersdorf (laughs) Anyway, next day we dressed up, grandma gave me a bath and grandpa did all this other stuff, they took us to Lander, on a pick up. We got to Lander and we went upstairs there’s this old mail house, post office, and they told us we were going to Denver. Uncle Sam wants to talk to you in Denver. We don’t know who Uncle Sam was, but yeah we want to talk to Uncle Sam (laughs) Well, it wasn’t exactly a trickery so they could get us in there, it’s just, we don’t know yet, we had come from more poor schools, real poor schools.

We got down to Denver, I remember stopping lettin’ us off at the coffee shop, great big pretty building. Joe Awful Coffee, I remember that word. And they gave us coffee and donuts, and they give us four donuts a piece, and after we ate, they put us on a bus, was a Air Force bus I guess. And then they took us to another place in Germ– uh, Denver. So we did what they wanted us to do. But we didn’t go home. They put us on this bus and they took us to the airport. And it was raining. And we got on a airplane, and we flew from Denver to Albuquerque. Non stop. And then from Albuquerque they flew us to Phoenix.

Then from Phoenix we got on a bigger plane, and they flew us to San Diego, California. We caught hell next day (laughs) – What happened? – Oh my, Marines got hold of us (laughs) cussed us out, called us down everything else. – What did you think? – Boy I said, this is something different. I don’t know what the hell’s going on (laughs) I really didn’t know what was going on. – And you didn’t know what was in store, then? – No.

Cause they didn’t tell us anything. – But by then you knew you were in the military? – I knew I was in the military, but I didn’t know where, I mean what it was about (laughs) Well, they treated us bad, knocked us down called us down. A few words like that, they said you’re not at home any more. If you wanna cry for your mother, I’m your mother. You wanna call for daddy if you’re not a bastard, I’m your daddy.

And all that BS. We were on a battleship, I don’t remember the Marque or something like that, and the boat, we felt the boat was slowing up. They told us, well, tomorrow, he said see the island, that’s an island. He said, there’s a battle field in there, still alive. You’re gonna get in there alive and come back alive. Or get yourself killed in there. – Did you know who you were fighting, Mark? – Japanese. – Did you know that? – I didn’t know that but I killed them (chuckles) I had a squad of my own, 29 of us. (sniffling) When I made it, there were Japanese in there, there was some holes in there, and then there there was a, boxes, ’bout that size. And it said, United States ammunition. And by those boxes there were riffles. Made in the United States. Number one sales and artillery. Those Japanese got a hold of our stuff, during the second World War, that’s what happened.

After that I didn’t care. I didn’t care what I was gonna do with a knife or a rifle. Or a machine gun. I was ready to go at any time, any time anybody wanted. – Because you wanted to survive. – Yeah, and I survived. Then they told us we were goin’ come home. – What did people say to you when you got home? – Nothing. – Did they know what you had been through? – My grand folks were still living. They’re the ones that raised me. I had real parents yet, but my grand folks didn’t have any boys in their family. And my grandmother was a warrior. She adopted me right there at the birth. She’s the one that raised me and took care of me, inherited everything she had when she passed away. She’s the one that told me what my new name was, and this jacket, well, these are new, but I got the old one, – What do you think about your service, Mark? What do you feel, are you proud of your service? – Ut uh.

– You’re not proud of your service? – I don’t even go to the parades that they put on, over here. We didn’t have the welcome that we’s supposed to have had, I guess because Indians don’t do that. So, I didn’t mind. But now a days, got a big hurrah, and everything else. That’s alright, if they want it that way. People don’t understand, when you’re in a war. (sniffles) Oh my God you, you lose your buddies. Your secret buddies. You help them survive, you help them drag outta the way. Drag them outta the way. Call for corpsman. And finally they come and it’s your turn to leave. I don’t know him. But I know that he’s got parents. And I know that he’ll be safe, I hope. .

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