Ho-Chunk Nation pays homage to its Vietnam vets with flag raising ceremony

By Tim Wohlers

In observance of National Vietnam War Veterans Day, the Ho-Chunk Nation’s Division of Veteran Affairs held a flag-raising ceremony in Black River Falls last month. 
The event took place on March 29, at the new District 1 Community Center. 
As one of the tribe’s many drum groups performed the “Flag Song,” former service members raised the three flags flown in front of the building – one representing the United States, one the state of Wisconsin, and the other the Ho-Chunk Nation. 
Immediately following the flag raising was a 21-gun salute by American Legion Post 129 and a performance of “Taps,” played by Jackson County Veterans Service Officer Randy Bjerke. 
United States Navy vet Andy Thundercloud then addressed the crowd on behalf of the Nation. 
“I’m glad to see so many people here,” Thundercloud said, “to help us celebrate Vietnam Veterans Day.” 
He welcomed everyone to the facility, which opened in January, and invited them into the gymnasium where the rest of the ceremony would take place.  Once inside, Traditional Chief Clayton Winneshiek gave the invocation. 
“This day was created for all Vietnam veterans,” Winneshiek announced.  “You endured a lot.” 
The chief said he could only imagine what it must have been like for the men and women who sacrificed so much, only to be condemned by their fellow countrymen upon returning home. 
“There were hardships that you had to overcome,” Winneshiek said.  “I may never have had the experiences that you went through…But today, I want to welcome you home.  And may life be better for you now.” 
Vietnam veteran Cleland Goodbear served as guest speaker for the day. 
“It seems like just yesterday that I went overseas and endured what I did,” Goodbear told the audience.  “But I looked in the mirror this morning, and saw an old man.” 
Despite all the decades that have passed since the war, Goodbear said he can still remember everything. 
“It was guerilla warfare,” Goodbear said.  “We were in jungles.  Sometimes it was hot, and sometimes it rained.  We ate everything from eels to lizards, to monkeys.  That’s how we endured the time we spent over there.” 
He then described what it was like for service members coming home from the war. 
“When we came back,” Goodbear said, “nobody recognized us.  It took a long time for them to recognize us, and for things to get better.” 
Nevertheless, he said his fellow veterans should be proud of what they did, in spite of the negativity once directed toward them. 
“I want to give thanks to all the Vietnam veterans that are here for what you guys have done,” Goodbear said.  “It took a long time for people to recognize you and me…But do be proud.” 
The event ended with Post 129 retiring the colors, and a homemade meal for all the veterans in attendance.