A’AGA: Something to be told or talked about

By Billy Allen


A traveling replica of the Vietnam Wall, officially known as “The Wall That Heals,” will make a stop at Dave White Park in Casa Grande from March 7-10.  The exhibit will be open 24 hours a day and free for the public to visit. That is Mul-Chu-Tha weekend, but hopefully O’otham/O’odham will turn out to visit this exhibit because not all of us are fortunate enough to visit the real wall in Washington, D.C.  


Songs are a big part of elementary school learning, and as a kid, I really enjoyed that part of the school day.  I struggled singing the National Anthem – not for any political reason, just that it’s a challenging song.  But I was always eager to belt out ¨America the Beautiful.¨ To my ears, I was competition for Ray Charles! 

Oh, beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!


The Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS) Extract Files site of 2008 notes that 42,000 Native men and women served in Vietnam between the years of 1964 to 1975.  According to Native Voices Timeline, The Vietnam Memorial lists 248 American Indians and Alaska Natives killed in action.


In 2016, when working with the Vietnam War Memory Project, Rodney Whatley of Pensacola State College said, “The Vietnam War is more than 50 years old and veterans of that conflict are aging. We need to get them to share their stories and experiences during the war with young people who know very little about it.” Only a few O’otham/O’odham veterans’ stories about Vietnam are known, forcing us to rely on media, such as it is, in trying to understand.  


The United States’ involvement in Vietnam began in 1955 when the U.S. supported South Vietnam against the communist backed north. The war became part of the turbulence of the 1960’s with 1968 the peak for sending ground troops to Vietnam. Draft age college students rebelled with protest demonstrations, the burning of draft cards, giving rise to an anti-war sentiment. A protest held at Kent State University in May of 1970, resulted in four students being killed by Ohio National Guardsmen fire.  The protest was in response to the expansion of the war into Cambodia, i.e. more troops.  Eventually the U.S. withdrew in 1973. Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, fell to the North in 1975. 


Tom Holm, a professor in the Native American Studies program at the University of Arizona published a paper in 1989 titled, Forgotten Warriors: American Indian Servicemen in Vietnam.  His research states during the Vietnam War, close to 90% of the Native American service men and women volunteered. Native Americans had the highest record of service per capita of any ethnic group.  Mr. Holm also found Native American soldiers in Vietnam experienced stress from combat – as did other soldiers of all ethnicities and nationalities. But during those turbulent 60’s, there was a growing dissatisfaction of United States Indian policies back home.  Some of the soldiers felt they were fighting a white man’s war, while back at home, the USA was undertaking policies designed to disrupt tribal cultures and remove rights that tribes had historically possessed. They also felt the government’s wartime policies were not the same as tribal teachings and sense of justice. Native culture taught women and children were not to be killed in battle. Elders taught it was bad medicine and did not prove one was brave, just the opposite. O’otham/O’odham himdag believes the world is round/sikol and the vibes you give out, return. One veteran told of a Vietnamese farmer who looked at a Native soldier and said, as if confused, “You...me, same-same.” Another veteran said it was confusing because, “We went into their country and killed them and moved the villagers elsewhere.  Just like when they moved us to the rez.”  Still, as noted, Native Americans have historically been mathematically over-represented in our military, and then continued in Vietnam.  


A stanza of ¨America the Beautiful¨ that’s not as well known:

O beautiful for heroes proved

in liberating strife, 

who more than self their country loved

and mercy more than life.


During the Vietnam War –as in the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea – if drafted, you had to go – or risk imprisonment. Still, as noted, 90 percent of the Native Americans in Vietnam volunteered. They ran towards the strife.  So many carried on the tradition of family and tribal members standing up for this nation. In 1971, the Native American rock band Zuni Midniters sung it best, “…but first my land, then my country…”   


O’otham/O’odham were no different. These are names of soldiers with ties to our community.   Dudney N. Arlentino, Army, lost during hostile fire. Harold J. Marrietta, Army Sergeant, fourteen years of service when he met his fate in Vietnam. David Drake Perkins, U.S. Army Private First Class, gave the ultimate sacrifice in 1966. The Gila River Indian News wrote his story in May of 2017. Franklin D. Pete, Jr. was a ground casualty in 1966. Sacaton was listed as his hometown. Tohono O’odham Marine Rifleman, Michael A. Romero was hit by explosive fire in 1970.  Patrick P. Francisco was a Marine LCPL from Hickiwan whose life ended in 1967. Stanfield was listed as his hometown.  The following may have been O’otham/O’odham and could not be confirmed by press time. Both were Infantry who listed Phoenix as their hometown. Gregory B. Chiago in 1968 and Dwight T. Blackwater in 1971. 


If you are able to make it to Casa Grande for the exhibit, and find these names, you might leave an offering.  On the way back home, traveling under “spacious skies” and viewing “purple mountain majesties,” give thanks to the men and women who sacrificed to allow us to enjoy this beauty. 


A final note: In researching for this article, sometimes I ran across slightly different information from different sources. That’s more reason for us to write our own stories, and I hope some younger readers will also become writers. 


The Wall That Heals exhibit will also be at Pleasant Harbor at Lake Pleasant (Peoria) on March 14 to 17. 

A partial listing of sites visited; Native Americans in the Military Vietnam War, 1959-1975. (2015; April 15) Retrieved from https://www.fcpotawatomi.com/news/native-americans-in-the-military-vietnam-war-1959-75/.  Vietnam War-Stories.com: American Warrior Series: www.war-stories.com/wall-native-americans-poss-1996.htm.


Native American Vietnam Veterans - Red Eye Video; redeyevideo.org/vietnamVets.html.

Military Records of the National Archives, https://digitalcommons.lasalle.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1016&context=vietnamgeneration.


Holm, Tom (1989) "Forgotten Warriors: American Indian Service Men in Vietnam," Available at: http://digitalcommons.lasalle.edu/vietnamgeneration/vol1/iss2/.


Holm, Tom. (1996) Strong Hearts, Wounded Souls: Native American Veterans of the Vietnam War.  Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.


Information was also made available from the Ira Hayes Post #84, Haskell Osife Antone Post #51, and the Tohono O’odham Veterans Affairs Office.