The Purple Heart was at the center of last Thursday’s Tribal Council session, during which Cheyenne River was declared a Purple Heart Reservation, and for the second time this year, the tribe honored a Purple Heart recipient.
Considered the nation’s oldest military award, the Purple Heart is a military medal awarded in the name of the President of the United States to service members who are wounded or killed in combat.
The commemorative event garnered a packed room with several visiting dignitaries including Military Order of the Purple Heart for South Dakota and North Dakota Commander Ken Teunissen, National Commander of the National American Indian Veterans Association Don Loudner (Crow Creek Sioux), and World War II veteran Marcella LeBeau.
Festivities began with the posting of colors and the eagle staff by American Legion Post 308 and the singing of flag song, which was followed with a welcome address by CRST Veteran Committee Chairman Bryce InTheWoods.
CRST Veterans Association Commander Richard Charging Eagle then spoke about the long road it has been to recognize Cheyenne River Purple Heart recipients and said that although the honoring is a good thing, some veterans may not welcome the attention to themselves.
“It’s tough for these guys. Some don’t want to be reminded of the pain,” said Charging Eagle.
Veteran Service Officer Robert Dunsmore then spoke about the many tasks his job entails, which includes lobbying on state and federal levels. It is especially important for him to do so on behalf of Native American veterans, who are generally underserved and underrepresented when it comes to veterans’ benefits and funding, said Dunsmore.
“Indian veterans are prestigious veterans, but are always on the bottom of the totem pole. It’s always an honor to work with veterans, especially now since we’re working on recognizing our Purple Heart veterans,” said Dunsmore.
After unveiling a single red-tailed hawk feather, Dunsmore called upon visiting guest Loudner and presented him with the feather. Culturally, the red-tailed hawk feather is significant to the Lakota people because it represents that a warrior has been wounded in combat. It is also said that the feather was one which Crazy Horse wore into combat, Dunsmore said.
After the feather presentation, InTheWoods introduced U.S. Army veteran and CRST Tokala (Kit Fox Society) Commander Remi Bald Eagle, who spoke about the importance of akicitas (warriors) in Lakota society.
InTheWoods then introduced the day’s honored guest, United States Army veteran, Sergeant Sylvester Schad, who served from 2002 to 2005 as a Cannon Crewmember (13B). During his enlistment, Schad served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and in 2003, was wounded in combat. For his sacrifice, he was awarded the Purple Heart.
CRST Chairman Harold Frazier and Vice Chairwoman Bernita InTheWoods presented Schad with a black jacket that was embroidered with the CRST flag design and “Purple Heart Veteran” on the back, and his name on the front.
Clad in a Desert Combat Uniform, Schad shared his gratitude for the gift and spoke candidly about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and the challenges of adapting back into civilian life.
“I’ve been taking it day by day. Thank you for this day. I’m glad to see each and every one of you. I’m very proud of this honor. I now have something to hold on to, something to hold my head up for,” said Schad.
Several honor songs were rendered for Schad as people lined up to shake his hand. Afterward, Teunissen and Loudner presented the tribe with road signs that read, “Wakpa Waste A Purple Heart Oyanke Code Talkers”, “Veterans Parking Only”, and “Reserved Combat Wounded.” Teunissen explained that his organization donated four of the Purple Heart signs to the tribe, one for every direction.
To conclude the event, Tribal Secretary EvAnn White Feather and Treasurer Benita Cook-Clark presented a star quilt to an emotional Teunissen, who said the gift was unexpected and touching. Everyone lined up to shake the visitors’ hands and congratulate Schad on his honor.