Tim Giago: How many others will die over Iraq?

Perhaps there should be a new recruitment motto for the military personnel that are about to become George W's 'new surge army." It might be "This is not just a job, it's an occupation."

When President Bush proclaimed "Mission Accomplished" he was partly correct because the actual ground war, the invasion, was over. Something new happened after that and it should have been classified immediately as a "guerilla war," not as an insurgency. It was a guerilla war in every sense of the word.

Iraq has become a country occupied by a foreign army that is under siege by an independent group of guerillas intent on forcing it to abandon their country. But the twist is that the guerillas are also intent on killing each other in what has become a sectarian war. If the guerillas would stop fighting each other and turn a united front against the army they consider to be the occupiers, things would be much worse for the American army.

The American soldiers and marines are caught in the middle of not only a guerilla war, but also a sectarian civil war. They are situated on the lands of a people who do not want them to be there. They are also considered to be infidels and crusaders by the Muslim insurgents. If they are to bring democracy to a people yearning for a theocracy after years of living under a dictatorship, their stay in Iraq will be a long one and will, in all likelihood, end in failure.

Nineteen young Americans lost their lives to this futility only last week. Sunday, a one-year anniversary memorial service was held at Kyle on the Pine Ridge Reservation for a young Lakota Marine named Brett Lundstrom who lost his life to a sniper in Iraq. Brett was young and did not consider the politics or the sectarianism of the fighting in Iraq. He was a warrior sent to Iraq to bring a new democracy to a country that did not want it. Did he die in vain? We would hope that a life lost in a cause, whether it is noble or ignoble, is not a death to be disrespected. After all, the intent of the soldier or marine sent into combat is to carry out the orders of the president of the United States of America. If the orders are wrongful, it is not the fault of the soldier.

Hundreds of Lakota turned out for the memorial because they do honor their heroes. A Lakota memorial service means many things. It is first a time to honor a fallen warrior. It is second, a time to remember. And third, it is a time to release the spirit of the warrior so that it may continue its journey to the Spirit World.

In the traditional Lakota way of life a family had a small, leather pouch in which a lock of hair from the fallen was kept so that the spirit of the dead would be with the family to help it through its year of mourning. At the end of that year the pouch is opened and the spirit is freed to continue its journey.

The chart of those who died in Iraq places South Dakota second in the number of deaths in combat per capita. Vermont leads the list. Three Lakota have died in Iraq. The first woman to die there was a Hopi Indian woman from Arizona. Among the dead you will find several Navajo Indians and several from the Indian nations of Oklahoma. The people of Indian country have always considered themselves one, so this brings the war a little closer for all of us.

Brett Lundstrom wasn't just a faceless soldier to me. His Lakota mother, Doyla Under Baggage, was my foster daughter and Brett spent many happy hours laughing and playing in my house long before he became a Marine. Death is the final arbiter, and like many others, it has drastically impacted the way I feel about Iraq.

Doyla Under Baggage, a wonderful woman who picked herself up from a life of poverty and despair to become a good human being and a caring and loving mother to Brett, grew up in my home district, Pejuta Haka, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Perhaps she will never understand the politics behind the "insurgency" in Iraq. She said, "Before Brett left for Iraq he told me he had a dream that he was going to be shot. He was scared. He didn't think he was coming back." He was 22-years-old. Standing in the wings is his brother Army Specialist Eddy Lundstrom, who just turned 22. He has been to Iraq once and is scheduled to head back once more. He also was in Iraq when his brother died.

While driving home on the reservation Doyla got a phone call from a neighbor. Cell phones don’t always work in these wide-open spaces. She knew something was wrong so she called her ex-husband in Detroit. When he answered the phone he was crying and she begged him to be calm. She said, "Which one was it?" She said, "That was the worst, not knowing which one it was and knowing that I had just lost a son."

Brett, whose Lakota name was Wanbli Ishnala, Lone Eagle, is now free to continue his journey to the Spirit World. The highest award he received was to be honored by his own people.

And several other mothers got that call this week and I am sure that at least one of them asked, "Which one was it?" How many others will die in the name of an "Occupation?"

McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago’s weekly column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or at najournalists@rushmore.com. Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the class of 1990 – 1991. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM (harmon@clearlightbooks.com) published his latest book, “Children Left Behind."

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