April 3, 2014

Fort Berthold strives to honor Vietnam Veterans

By Alexandra Hootnick

Twelve-year-old Christopher Briones stood in front of the more than 80 people packed into the New Town Civic Center on March 29th. In honor of Vietnam Veterans Day, the sixth grader from Fargo was invited to read the essay that won him first place in Patriot’s Pen Competition held by the North Dakota VFW. His voice shook a little as he recounted the death of his grandfather, his hero, a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. But Briones’ speech became strong and clear as he recounted the lessons of patriotism his grandfather taught him, including that "we as Native Americans still believe in America, land of the free."

In the third year since North Dakota commemorated Vietnam Veterans’ Day, the Fort Berthold VFW Post 961 Ladies’ Auxiliary held a feed to honor the men and women who served in the war. Collages the size of twin bedsheets, provided by VFW Post 961, hung from the ceiling inside the civic center entrance, displaying the photographs of past and present members and their corresponding period of service.

Prior to opening the event with a prayer in Hidatsa, Mandan and Hidatsa elder Delvin Driver Sr. spoke to the long respected lineage of warriors in Indian culture. "We were always ready to go out and fight anytime, that’s in us, the native people," he said.

Indeed, more than 42,000 American Indians served in Vietnam and more than 90 percent volunteered to enlist, according to the United States Navy, despite faltering support for the war. In 2012, President Barack Obama announced federal recognition of Vietnam Veterans’ Day "to show all who have worn the uniform of the United States the respect and dignity they deserve."

However, guest speaker Emery Fisher, the North Dakota state VFW commander, said that while many veterans were mistreated for their involvement in Vietnam, on Fort Berthold they always seemed to be "treated well." Currently, the city of Parshall’s centennial history book committee is working with the American Legion Post 121 to compile an exhaustive list of Fort Berthold’s native and non-native veterans. The committee is also looking into applying for designation as an official United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration partner by the U.S. defense department.

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