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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide
 

Yup'ik RavenMarshall Cultural Atlas

This collection of student work is from Frank Keim's classes. He has wanted to share these works for others to use as an example of Culturally-based curriculum and documentation. These documents have been OCR-scanned. These are available for educational use only.

 

 

 

 

Special Feature from the Tundra Drums
in memory of Veterans Day

Vietnam vet recalls the 'crazy wars'

 

By Frank Keim

"Seems like the Army finally remembered me after 26 years!"

Richard Oney smiled at me as he said this. He'd just finished telling me the story of his 10-month stint in Vietnam during the war back in 1969-1970. He wasn't complaining - but he was not happy, either - that only this past September he had been sent the seven service metals and badges he had earned during those difficult years.

Richard was born and raised in Marshall, a small village on the Yukon just upriver from St. Marys. When he joined the army he was only 19 and full of lofty ideals. He really believed that by serving in Vietnam he would be fighting for freedom and defending the U.S. Constitution against its enemies.

It didn't take long in Vietnam before his lofty ideals were dashed. Richard is proud of being an American and having served in the U.S. Army, but of the Vietnam War he said, "We had no business being there. The Vietnamese people didn't want us there. We shouldn't have been over there."

During his first six months in the country he was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. He was what they called a "straight leg" or "grunt,' the kind of soldier who was always on the front line doing patrol duty. He worked under the worst of all possible conditions, including constant exposure to the hot tropical sun, insects, leeches, diarrhea, jungle rot, Agent Orange, the constant threat of booby traps and land mines and, of course, the horrors of battle.

He remembers one time about two months after he was in Vietnam when his company was helicoptered into a point not far from a place called Ku Chi near the Cambodian border. They were to provide back-up support for the withdrawal of another company that had been ambushed by the North Vietnamese Regular Army and was under heavy fire. Their mission was "successful," with minimal casualties to his own company. But the other company suffered heavy losses. That was where he first saw the blood and gore of a battleground and the death and terrible wounds inflicted by enemy land mines and mortar fire.

It was also where he saw the first dead enemy soldiers of the NVRA. He remembers seeing their twisted bodies as he moved cautiously through the tall tropical grasses. He had been ordered to shoot at anything that moved and he was so scared, he said, he could feel his hair standing on end, even under his helmet.

He and his platoon were also assigned to set ambushes for the Viet Cong and NVRA. When they did this he served as assistant machine-gunner, which meant he had to stay close to the man with the M-60 and help him when needed.

Richard remembers another operation, also near Ku Chi, when they were ordered to set an ambush for the enemy along one of their trails. They had landed in choppers with enough food and water to last them for 12 days. They put a bait of food rations out for any unsuspecting Vietcong and then cut all the grass around the bait so they would be able to see their enemy. They meanwhile hid behind a pile of sandbags they had placed in the surrounding tall grass and waited.

He said they waited for six days in the unbearable heat of the tropical sun, made even worse because they couldn't stand up and had to crawl everywhere so they wouldn't alert the enemy. Finally, on the sixth day they saw a small group of Vietcong checking out their food cache. The response was instant. All hell broke loose, he said, with M- 1 6s, M-60s and grenades going off all around him. He was firing his M-16 like everyone else, and when the shooting was all over with there wasn't a blade of grass standing anywhere in sight Then four Cobra helicopters suddenly swooshed in overhead and blasted the area some more with their rockets and .50-caliber machine guns. When the smoke cleared and they were finally able to check the results of their ambush, they found the remains of five dead Vietcong who, according to documents they carried, were serving as messengers for the NVRA.

Richard went on to say that after stripping the dead enemy soldiers and taking their rifles, many of our own men mutilated their bodies and pried out their gold teeth. He did not participate in this because of his Yup' ik belief that dead bodies must be respected, no matter who they are. If you don't give due respect, the dead person's spirit could follow you and haunt you for the rest of your life. He is convinced this is the reason why so many of those same American soldiers committed suicide or went crazy after they got home to the states.

This was the first firefight where Richard saw dead bodies that were so torn up you could barely recognize them, with body parts like fingers and toes blown off and scattered all over the ground, and brains and intestines hanging out everywhere. He can still smell the nauseating odor of all those dead and decaying things, even after 26 years. It was much worse for him then, he said, because of the tropical heat and because they had been ordered to remain in the area until the next day. After that he couldn't eat for six days, and even then his hunger came back only gradually.

He remembers the fear he felt then too, especially after everyone opened fire. He said he was so scared he could think only that he would be shot in the forehead and die, even with his helmet on. And then, as always, there was the cold prickling sensation of his hair standing straight out on his back like the hackles of a dog.

To this day he gets flashbacks of the encounter, mixed with so many others he had while he was in Vietnam. And many of the old feelings of shame and guilt associated with killing people return. So do the nightmares, which his wife won't interrupt anymore, for fear of the violent reactions he's had in the past.

After six months in the south, Richard was transferred up north to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) near Quang Tri, where he served his last four months with the 101st Airborne Division. He said he and his platoon were welcomed there during their first day by a heavy barrage of enemy mortar fire from the other side of the DMZ! No casualties to his platoon, but the high stress never let up.

He started drinking and raising hell, he says, to try to get the stress out of his system, to no avail. So he tried smoking marijuana, which helped but didn't cure anything. He never got into cocaine or heroine but many of his friends did and became addicts. But he became more and more violent as time went by - probably, he figures, as a form of personal rebellion against this "crazy war." Sometimes he tried carving like he had back in the village to alleviate the stress. But he could never concentrate long enough for it to do any good. Everything made his heart start racing, even little Vietnamese kids who he said might have an active bomb strapped to their bodies, the better to kill and maim you with. In the end nothing worked. The anxiety was always there, the uncontrollable pumping of the heart, followed by the guilt and a wave of black depression. And so it went back and forth, seemingly forever. And then there was the "jungle rot" on his right leg which had started down in Ku Chi. But at least that was only physical and could eventually be treated with medicine when he finally got back to "the world" which they called home. As it turned out, that was to be sooner rather than later - two months sooner, in fact. After four months in Quang Tri, Richard's "jungle rot" was diagnosed as too serious for him to remain in Vietnam, and he was shipped back to "the world" 10 months after he landed in Cam Ranh Bay.

But the war didn't suddenly end for him when he returned to the States. He continued to have flashbacks and bouts of anxiety and depression and violent drinking sprees, where the upshot would predictably be a night or two in jail and a long string of assault and battery misdemeanors. He married and divorced in New Mexico, then came back to his hometown, Marshall, and quickly left again because he felt like such a misfit. He said most everyone treated him like an alien because he'd fought in that "crazy war," so he picked up stakes again and split. Although he's been back in Marshall for a long time and has a family here, he still feels he's treated like he fought in the "wrong war." And personally, he feels it was the wrong war for everyone. "We had no business being there," he repeated. "I was not defending anybody's freedom."

But Richard is very happy now that the U.S. Army and the Veterans' Administration finally have remembered him. Recently he brought his medals to Marshall's high school and showed them to the students in a class, where they quizzed him with questions about the Vietnam War and about a psychological condition he calls post-traumatic stress disorder.

In reference to this disorder, Richard hopes other Alaska Native Vietnam vets like himself will take advantage of the new pension the Veterans' Administration now offers to compensate them in part for their suffering since that "crazy war."

 

Frank Keim lives in Marshall.

 

 

 

Editorial Page

Native Sovereignty

Charlotte Alstrom

Say No to Drugs and Alcohol

Tassie Fitka

 

Max's Message from the Best
Little School on the Yukon

 

Feature News

A Bad Year For Eeling

Jonathan Boots

Floss Your Teeth

Tatiana Sergie

Armory Nearly Finished

Maurice Turet

Brush Your Teeth!

Rose Lynn Fitka

The AFN Convention

Mary June Tinker

What's Happenin' at School?

Annie's Kindergarten

Annie Hunter

Barb's 1st and 2nd Grades

Written by the 2nd grade students.

Happy Thanksgiving from Room #103

Janice Olsen

Tom's Class

Tom Andrew

Richard's Classes

Richard Olsen

Frank's Classes

Frank Keim

Guy's Classes

Guy Sandlin

Special Olympics in Marshall

A New Volleyball Season For Alvin

Tassie Fitka

Fish Flash

Jonathan Boots

Signs of Global Warming

Joe Fitka

 

 

November 1997 Calendar

 

Elders Page

 

Taking the Wrong Trail

Alexander Isaac

 

Dedications

 

Dear Tat

 

Mystery People

 

Did You Know That…

 

Fun Page

 

Look To The Stars
Your Personal Horoscope

 

??Guess Who!!

 

Special Feature from the Tundra Drums
in memory of Veterans Day

Vietnam vet recalls the 'crazy wars'

Frank Keim

Message Page (in pdf)

 

End Notes
Christmastime Tales
Stories real and imaginary about Christmas, Slavik, and the New Year
Winter, 1996
Christmastime Tales II
Stories about Christmas, Slavik, and the New Year
Winter, 1998
Christmastime Tales III
Stories about Christmas, Slavik, and the New Year
Winter, 2000
Summer Time Tails 1992 Summertime Tails II 1993 Summertime Tails III
Summertime Tails IV Fall, 1995 Summertime Tails V Fall, 1996 Summertime Tails VI Fall, 1997
Summertime Tails VII Fall, 1999 Signs of the Times November 1996 Creative Stories From Creative Imaginations
Mustang Mind Manglers - Stories of the Far Out, the Frightening and the Fantastic 1993 Yupik Gourmet - A Book of Recipes  
M&M Monthly    
Happy Moose Hunting! September Edition 1997 Happy Easter! March/April 1998 Merry Christmas December Edition 1997
Happy Valentine’s Day! February Edition 1998 Happy Easter! March/April Edition 2000 Happy Thanksgiving Nov. Edition, 1997
Happy Halloween October 1997 Edition Edible and Useful Plants of Scammon Bay Edible Plants of Hooper Bay 1981
The Flowers of Scammon Bay Alaska Poems of Hooper Bay Scammon Bay (Upward Bound Students)
Family Trees and the Buzzy Lord It takes a Village - A guide for parents May 1997 People in Our Community
Buildings and Personalities of Marshall Marshall Village PROFILE Qigeckalleq Pellullermeng ‘A Glimpse of the Past’
Raven’s Stories Spring 1995 Bird Stories from Scammon Bay The Sea Around Us
Ellamyua - The Great Weather - Stories about the Weather Spring 1996 Moose Fire - Stories and Poems about Moose November, 1998 Bears Bees and Bald Eagles Winter 1992-1993
Fish Fire and Water - Stories about fish, global warming and the future November, 1997 Wolf Fire - Stories and Poems about Wolves Bear Fire - Stories and Poems about Bears Spring, 1992

 

 
 

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Last modified August 23, 2006