5 Native American Veterans now ready for winter

5 Native American Veterans and 2 of their neighbors will be much warmer and a lot more comfortable this winter thanks to a grant from Home Depot. It is well recognized that historically, Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita than other ethnic groups. Their cultural values drive them to serve their country and they do so proudly. The courageous deeds of Native Americans in military service clearly demonstrate the qualities inherent in Native American societies: strength, honor, pride, devotion, and wisdom. On Pine Ridge Reservation, the Veterans, like other Lakota people, live in housing that only minimally provides shelter. Home Depot Foundation focuses giving on veterans and has a goal of ensuring that every veteran has a safe place to call home.

Tony and Bamm

In September 2012, ONE Spirit received a $5000 grant from Home Depot to be used for supplies to repair homes of veterans on the reservation. Bud Jersild, Area Service Coordinator with ONE Spirit, worked with Home Depot and several men on the reservation, to identify seven projects that would vastly improve living conditions for 5 Native American Veterans, their families, and 2 of their neighbors. Grant funds were used to purchase materials and Lakota men volunteered their time and labor. Because some of the work required considerable professional skill, a Lakota carpenter and two helpers were employed by ONE Spirit.

Leaky roofs were replaced, storm doors were installed, windows were weatherized, old worn out trailer skirting was replaced, a well pump and an electric water heater was installed, a new door was hung where previously no door existBd, laminate flooring replaced damaged floors, and large holes in dry walls were repaired.

What follows is the story of one of the Veterans who will be much happier this winter. Bamm Brewer volunteered his time to make the repairs needed for Tony Bush, a Vietnam Veteran who served with the 101st Airborne Division known as the Screaming Eagles.

Local Veteran ready for winter

Winter months are here and times can be tough on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Many tribal members struggle through the cold winter months with old houses that provide only minimal protection from the South Dakota winters. A grant from Home Depot to ONE Spirit has helped out several of our local vets this winter. Tony Bush of Evergreen area has received help winterizing his house. The Grant for $5000 from Home Depot, National Hardware store, was channeled through the non-profit, ONE Spirit to Vietnam veteran Tony Bush. The grant also helped six other residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This grant made it possible for Tony Bush to receive two storm doors and weatherization for his home north of Porcupine, South Dakota.

The project didn’t take very long to complete. Two storm doors and plastic up the windows was all it took and Tony said "Now I could walk around in here in my birthday suit" with a big smile. "Just those nice new air tight storm doors really made a lot of difference", said Tony. The project was helped by another Evergreen area resident Delbert High Hawk and James Wilson. On the first day, one storm door was put on and plastic on some windows. The crew came back the next day and finished up the back door and other windows. It was a great project and Tony said Thanks to Home Depot and the ONE Spirit crew.

"The Screaming Eagle" Tony Bush

After a great day of weatherization of Tony’s house it was time to sit around his propane heating stove and listen to this old guy’s story. He grew up just like many kids on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation enjoying favorite pass times such as hunting, fishing and riding horses. He lived mostly in the Porcupine area where he would spend many days living the Lakota life style. Differences in the way schools were back then, Tony found himself in Job Corps looking for a trade that would brighten up his future. As things heated up and battle waged on in a place called Vietnam, Tony saw his help was needed on the distant battle fields. Tony Bush volunteered for the United States Army and was assigned to an overseas tour of duty in Vietnam from June 1970 to July 1971. Tony wasn’t just regular Army, he joined the elite 101st Air Borne Division also known as the "Screaming Eagles". A Lakota paratrooper was born. Tony spoke of the trip into Vietnam for a young man as quite a scene. Tony would be assigned a hot area of operation near Hue, South Vietnam, 300 miles from the DMZ “Demilitarized Zone” with the 101st Air Mobile. "We flew around in UH1 helicopters something like those "Life Flight" helicopters that fly by" said Tony. It was his duty as rifleman to carry the M60 Machine gun when in the field. In the helicopter the crews had their own door gunner but many times Tony had to open fire with his M60 out of the door. There was a time when the door gunner signaled for Tony to cut off his fire. After all the firing calmed down the Gunner, yelling because of the loudness of the Huey, told him he appreciated him helping but once you get on the ground you may need all that ammo you just helped us out with. Tony was about 180 pounds back then. However, with full rucksack and all his gear on he said "I probably weighed about 400 pounds." The soldiers had to carry a lot to survive in the field.

Once assigned to 101st Air Mobile and flying with UH1 Bravo Company forces in Vietnam, the mission was to find and shut down VC activity. In the 70’s era the term "Search and destroy" was now referred to as "Make them Behave" Tony said. It was a task easier said than done. The fire fights were still happening and to experience this was very nerve racking and scary. Tony spoke of his first fire fight, and after a long pause said, "It was scary, real scary. We were walking down a trail and all of a sudden they opened up on us. All you could hear was popping and snapping". In their area of operation outside of Hue the jungle all of a sudden came alive with gun fire. "You couldn’t see them. You just heard the fire bursts and guys next to me got hit, yet somehow I didn’t get hit". It would be a miracle at this point if he made it through his tour of duty. This young Lakota man from Porcupine now had actually found himself in a situation of trying to survive the war theater of Vietnam. Close to death and too many close calls made it real tough in Vietnam and with only seventeen days left Tony was assigned yet another dangerous job. They were sent into an area infiltrated by the VC. Everyone in a Village wiped out and thrown in a mass grave and the VC had taken over the village. The job would require taking back the Village and restoring order. There is where he saw the horrors of humanity. "That grave was as big as a football field". Tony spoke of the rush and fear of flying into a "Hot LZ" and the fear of not coming home and with just seventeen days to go in Vietnam Tony Bush climbed back in the gun ship and put it all aside because he was a Screaming Eagle.

Tony as Screaming Eagle

Lakota Paratrooper message to Returning Veterans

A life after Vietnam came with struggles for the Lakota paratrooper, turning to alcohol and trying to sleep was difficult. "Every little noise woke me up, I wasn’t used to sleeping at home" and there were times when his father Eugene would find him crotched down on the floor in the middle of the night. "Son you're home now, you’re not over there anymore, you don’t have to do that" his father would say. The battle memories will live on forever, where a young man from Porcupine grew up to be a protector of the oyate. "The first three years after Vietnam were rough" said Tony. Slowly things got better and a new world came to him through Lakota Spirituality. Tony is now sober since 23 years and has sundanced for 17 years. He now helps with the cooking and is a fire helper at the Rick Two Dogs and Knife Chief Sundances. Tony has been a role model amongst his people and a "common man". Sometimes you can see him walking along the road out toward the Porcupine area. He can still hump a rucksack only thing it’s full of groceries. He is a nice man who calls me "bro" which is short for brother. I call him Uncle. The long three days spent with him were very special; his main goal was going to sweat and the next coming ceremony. He really has a special connection to all warrior societies of today. The message he would like to communicate to all newly returning soldier coming home from Afghanistan, and Iraq would be to "find some form of Lakota spirituality, because your spirit needs a rest". It was a great day visiting with Tony and in the middle of his story telling I would hide the choked up feeling I got after he told of the things he saw and been through. I saw a man that the spirits protected so that he may help others, and his Lakota name says it all "Bright Horse Moving". We thank Tony for sharing and being a great Lakota Hero but most of all a man to talk to for our newly returning veterans. May we all honor those who served and a special salute to those who came from above, The Screaming Eagles HOKA!