Vietnam visit brings closure
Photos & Story by Vi Waln
Published September 1, 2017
Rosebud, S.D. -- “There is nothing like the high from battlefield adrenalin,” stated Francis White Bird. He served during the Vietnam War as a Platoon Medic and received a Purple Heart for his service.
He characterized the North Vietnamese soldiers as “worthy opponents, they slugged it out in the open, they were a good army,” he stated. “They weren’t like modern day terrorist groups.”
White Bird revisited Vietnam in 2005 to reclaim a part of his spirit which was left when he was wounded. Upon arrival, he rented a car and hired an interpreter to take him to the place where he was wounded. He lit a ball of sage he’d brought with him, burning it for all the soldiers who suffered there.
“Soldiers form a strong bond, when you make that bond it’s often stronger than brothers,” he said. “In war you’re not black, brown, red or white, you’re all green. They even paint you that color.”
“When we left, the area was plowed up and the trees were all shot up,” he said. “Now there is a big eucalyptus tree growing in the area. Everything’s changed. There are now blacktop roads, modern buildings and everyone uses a cell phone.”
White Bird was the featured speaker at the screening of a television mini-series documenting the Vietnam War. The event was hosted by Lakota veterans in conjunction with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s 141st Annual Celebration.
The Vietnam War, A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, is a 60-minute screening of the 18-hour documentary airing on public television in mid-September. The screening was provided through South Dakota Pubic Broadcasting (SDPB).
“Over 27,000 South Dakotans served in Vietnam,” stated Katie Beem, SDPB Public Relations Manager. “The film was possible through a grant. It is an effort to collect and share important stories.”
“When a family member goes to war, the whole family goes to war,” added White Bird. Both of his sons have served in the military.
He said some of the greatest veterans recently recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor were the Lakota Code talkers. See Sicangu Lakota Code Talkers There were 41 fluent Lakota speakers who helped the United States win World War I. During WWII, there were 69 soldiers who spoke fluent Lakota, Nakota or Dakota dialects.
Approximately 200 men from Rosebud enlisted during the Vietnam era. “It wasn’t a matter of being drafted, most of them volunteered,” stated Orlando Morrison. He serves as the RST Veterans Service Officer. Today, about 26 of Rosebud’s veterans who served in Vietnam are active in the local area.
Vietnam veterans were invited to share their perspective following the screening. SDPB staff were available onsite to interview veterans. Vietnam veterans were asked to focus on 3 questions:
The Vietnam War premieres on PBS on September 17 at 7pm CST. To learn more about sharing your story, or to read the experiences of other veterans, please visit http://www.sdpb.org/vietnam/