On Memorial Day morning, Puyallup Chairman Bill Sterud stood at the Veteran’s Memorial outside the Tribal Health Authority honoring the 76 tribal members who fought for our country, and for our Tribe, who have passed on.
“They’re all over in our cemetery now,” he said, “and when I come here on this day, I think of each and every one of them.”
Chairman Sterud spoke of his own family members who fought in foreign wars and of the tribal members who fought and came home only to experience the decay of Native culture and Native rights.
“Many came home from World War II and our reservation had been devastated,” he explained. “Couldn’t fish in the rivers… and they got militant. It was slow because there weren’t any attorneys. There wasn’t anything like that. It was just people meeting in homes putting together a plan. And their plan worked. They got a lot of that from serving in World War II for us, for our country.”
Moderated by tribal elder and veteran Michael Sisson, the Tribal Veteran’s Memorial Ceremony was attended by many veterans of numerous tribes and their families. A cool breeze slowly blew the clouds away and made the flags of the Veteran’s Memorial flutter at half-mast.
Council members Sylvia Miller and David Bean both spoke to the gathering after which tribal elder and veteran Jim Young solemnly read the list of names of Puyallup tribal veterans who’ve passed over. After each of the 76 names were read one by one, tribal members played a single drumbeat in unison.
Some of the fallen warriors had nicknames like Grumpy, Skinny, Dutch or Uncle Buddy. These nicknames reminded everyone that these soldiers were people with friends and families who loved them. They had characters and personalities. They weren’t names in a history book or a set of statistics. They were one of us with deep roots in the community.
As the names were read, some last names appeared twice or even three or four times. There were seniors and juniors, showing fathers and sons who both made the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes, Jim read the name and called that person a good friend or noted that the person was a cousin of his. Near the end of the list, he read a name that made him stop.
“James Young Sr., ‘Jim’, known to the family as Dad,” he said after a long silence.
A wreath was presented in commemoration of the fallen warriors after which a three-volley salute was made by riflemen and tribal members from VFW Post 2224 of Puyallup. The solemn tones of “Taps” we’re then played as the gathering stood, some saluting, some placing their hand over their heart.
As the flags were raised back up from their former positions at half mast, our memories, love and respect rose as well, reminding us of the honored position the warrior has in our society and of the rich history that tradition has in our tribe.