"I'd come to this village in the Gila River Indian Community 37 miles south of Phoenix to get together with nine of my old Marine buddies and participate in the Pima tribe's annual commemoration of the famous raising of the American Flag during the hard-fought World War II invasion of Iwo Jima.
I went away with much, much more.
The 600-square-mile Gila River reservation is home to two tribes, the Pima and Maricopa. It has a population of about 11,000. Each February the Pima commemorate the Iwo Jima flag raising with a banquet, parade and powwow in Sacaton.
It's because one of the six Americans — five Marines and a Navy corpsman — in the famous photograph of the flag raising is the late Ira H. Hayes, a Pima from Sacaton. A school, a library, a park and the local American Legion post are named in his honor.
Our friend Dennis Coochyama invited us and was a magnificent host. Dennis is a Hopi from northeast Arizona, and his wife, Gail, is a Pima. They live and work in Sacaton.
Mike, Dave and Barry came from California, Ed and Dan from Indiana. Jim is from Minnesota, Rod from Vermont and Art from Tennessee. All of us flew as Marines in Vietnam with VMO-6, a squadron of helicopter gunships based a few miles below the DMZ. It has been 40 years, but we've managed to keep our friendship intact, and we look forward to renewing it whenever we can, even though we live in all parts of the country.
Dennis thought we would be interested to learn the ways Native Americans honor and respect warriors, that is to say, all who serve or have served the nation in the military.
He was right."
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Lou Sessinger: American Indians honor, heal their warriors
(The Intelligencer 2/28)