Veterans & fallen Navajo soldier remembered in Birdsprings
Draper signaled his granddaughter, Tonia Draper, who brought him a white flag emblazoned with the famous image of Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. Draper reminded students that one of those Marines had been Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian.
The Code Talker concluded his story by singing a poem that he had written in the Navajo language, describing the image of the American flag against the sky in Iwo Jima.
Marla Billey, Miss Navajo Nation, then addressed the students, explaining her own feelings about the flag, and of her father’s service in Vietnam—as well as the importance of being Navajo.
“Remember who you are and where you come from. Be respectful of your elders, your family and your teachers,” Billey said. “Girls, remember that a boy must be able to build a hogan and have money to support you before you have a baby for him. By hogan, I mean this is symbolic of a home.”
Billey told students that she has traveled all over the Navajo reservation in her work as the ambassador for the Navajo Nation. Everywhere she goes, she sees 12-year-old girls having babies and having to drop out of school and live at home with the support of parents.
“I don’t want to see that for you,” Billey urged. “Stay away from drugs and alcohol and respect everyone,” she concluded.
At this point, the old flag was retired from the school’s central flagpole, and the new flag was raised. It was at this point in the ceremony that Jones, with the assistance of Billey, announced the loss of Sgt. Lee Dewayne Todacheene of Lukachukai, the first Navajo to die in the war in Iraq. Todecheeney leaves behind a wife and two children, Jones added. Out of respect for the fallen soldier, the new flag was immediately lowered to half-mast and as taps rang out across the school grounds. Many of the veterans present had tears in their eyes.
Melvin Nez commented that the Navajo Nation needed to remember and honor Todecheeney as they did for Lori Piestewa, Hopi, who had died lost her life a year ago in Iraq. Further, he said, he would like to see Todacheene’s family supported in a similar fashion.
Lucinda Godinez, principal, who has served Little Singer Community School for 13 years, rose to address the crowd. First, she too spoke of the loss of Todacheene. With tears in her eyes, she went on to tell of her participation in a celebration only a week before where Flagstaff welcomed back soldiers from Iraq.
“There were flags everywhere, children were smiling,” she began. “Suddenly a child walks up, a niece to the in-laws—you know, in-laws are always testing us,” she laughed. “She looked straight up at me and asks, ‘do flags tell stories?’ Immediately all of my in-laws turn and look at me. Sure they do, I told her.
“They are the best of storytellers. The way it moves tells a story of freedom. If you move a little closer, it tells a story of how soldiers believe that democracy is worth giving their life for,” Godinez continued.
She told her students that when she looks at the flag, she knows that she is certainly blessed with rights that no one can take away. She urged everyone to take advantage of the same freedom, to be all that they can become and improve themselves for the benefit of people all around the world.
“If one day someone passes by and asks you, ‘do flags tell stories,’ say to them, sure they do! You have the chance to tell those stories as well,” Godinez concluded.
Melvin Tsosie rose to deliver an emotional and heartfelt prayer, asking for blessings for all who had come to Little Singer to share this significant day with them. At the conclusion of this prayer, Tsosie led guests and dignitaries to a lunch featuring mutton stew, ribs, salad, pie and fruit.
Representatives of the school offered many thanks, including Brianna Huskon, eighth grader and student council president. Jones recognized his friend, colleague, fellow veteran and “big brother,” Murphy Tsosie for his donation of the flag for the day’s purposes
“Sometimes businesses donate the flag, sometime Archie [Ortiz, also a member of NAVVW] does,” Jones said. “I have donated flags, and sometimes my wife, Lily, has too. But the most important thing is that as we travel around [the reservation], we get to help each other.”