American Indian veterans gather at Cantigny: 'It helps a lot when you talk'
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.
"We did our duty because this is our country," said Valdivi, a member of the Comanche tribe. "And we served proudly."
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.
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