American Indian veterans gather at Cantigny: 'It helps a lot when you talk'

  • Raymond Harjo of Oklahoma served in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 2004. Harjo said it's important for veterans to get together and talk about their experiences.

      Raymond Harjo of Oklahoma served in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 2004. Harjo said it's important for veterans to get together and talk about their experiences. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Al Valdivi, a member of the Comanche tribe, talks about his military service in the Vietnam War during the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans at Wheaton's Cantigny Park.

      Al Valdivi, a member of the Comanche tribe, talks about his military service in the Vietnam War during the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans at Wheaton's Cantigny Park. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • A customer looks over Indian garments being sold during the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.

      A customer looks over Indian garments being sold during the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • People gather in a circle to discuss interpersonal issues during the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.

      People gather in a circle to discuss interpersonal issues during the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Al Valdivi, a member of the Comanche tribe, talks about his military service in the Vietnam War during the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans at Wheaton's Cantigny Park.

      Al Valdivi, a member of the Comanche tribe, talks about his military service in the Vietnam War during the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans at Wheaton's Cantigny Park. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • The table honoring prisoners of war and troops missing in action was set up at the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans at Cantigny Park. Arranged for one, it symbolized the frailty of one prisoner alone against his oppressors.

      The table honoring prisoners of war and troops missing in action was set up at the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans at Cantigny Park. Arranged for one, it symbolized the frailty of one prisoner alone against his oppressors. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/21/2018 4:24 PM

Underneath a large tent at Wheaton's Cantigny Park, retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Raymond Harjo of Oklahoma chatted Saturday with fellow American Indian veterans and their families.

They talked about where they served, what they did while in uniform and what their lives have been like since leaving the military.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It helps a lot when you talk," said Harjo, 55, a member of the Seminole tribe whose service included time in turbulent Central America during the 1980s with the First Battalion of the 160th Field Artillery Regiment. "It makes you feel good inside."

Veterans from across the U.S. came together at Cantigny as part of the fourth National Gathering of American Indian Veterans.

The event paid special tribute to female veterans and those who have served in the military since the Vietnam War.

Vietnam War veteran Al Valdivi of Indiana attended the event. A member of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division during the war, he was part of a small group of American Indians tasked with locating enemy forces and then calling in attacks from offshore warships and warplanes, much like the famed code talkers who served during World War II.

Valdivi said it hurt that the code talkers weren't formally recognized by the U.S. government until decades after World War II and the Vietnam War ended.

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"We did our duty because this is our country," said Valdivi, a member of the Comanche tribe. "And we served proudly."

The gathering will conclude Sunday morning at Cantigny, 1S151 Winfield Road. It is hosted by the Trickster Gallery in Schaumburg and the McCormick Foundation, which operates Cantigny Park.

Vendors are selling hats, art and jewelry, too, and representatives of groups including the Veterans History Project and the National Museum of the American Indian are present to tell people about their work.

Admission is free and open to the public, but parking is $10 per car.

For information, visit trickstergallery.com.

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