by Cindy Yurth Tséyi
Special to SENAA International
27 January 2009
Ariz. — As Tom Gorman read the citations for the two posthumous
Congressional Medals of Honor recently awarded to veterans of
Operation Iraqi Freedom, they sounded familiar.
had thrown themselves on live explosives, using their bodies to
shield their comrades from the full force of the blast.
earlier, Gorman, the claims agent at the Navajo Veterans Affairs’
Chinle office, had read an almost identical account of a Navajo
soldier as he entered information on Vietnam veterans into the
office’s computer database.
back into his files and took another look.
was: a posthumous Silver Star citation for Spc. E-4 Huskie Yazzie
Begay Ten, dated March 8, 1968.
read through it again. Ten was serving as a machine gunner on Feb.
4, 1968, when his company encountered “a company-size force of
North Vietnamese regulars positioned on a hill several miles
southwest of Pleiku,” the citation read.
modern counterparts, Ten had thown himself on a grenade to shield
his comrades. But this was after he had been wounded three times,
and urged by a medic to leave the battlefield.
Ten elected to remain and provide protective fire for the wounded,”
according to the citation. The rest of his unit was able to
withdraw to safety.
done the same thing as these Iraq vets, and even more, because he
had already taken three hits,” observed Gorman.
Ten only awarded a Silver Star while his Iraq War counterparts
received Congressional Medals of Honor? Gorman believes there’s
only one explanation.
had been a young Anglo-American man with blond hair and blue eyes,
he would have gotten the Medal of Honor,” Gorman stated.
determined to make things right. He wants Ten’s commendation
reconsidered and elevated to a Medal of Honor. It won’t be easy.
thing, applying to Congress for the award involves submitting a
full biography of the proposed recipient, and the details of Ten’s
short life — he was 22 when he threw himself on that grenade —
are sketchy at best.
surviving family members here at the foot of Black Mesa have
agreed to help Gorman as much as they can, but Ten’s parents are
dead, and most records of his personal and military history have
been lost. In fact, the family can’t find his Silver Star.
even has a picture of him,” said his niece, Louise Begay, at a
family gathering Friday to discuss the effort.
family has attempted to trace records of his early life, but their
efforts have been complicated by the fact that, like many Navajos
of his generation, Ten appears to have gone by at least three
surname “Fastrunner” is on his birth certificate, and he was
known in his earliest years as “Fastrunner Biyé” — son of
Fastrunner. Later, “Biyé” appears to have been Anglicized to
“Begay,” a surname still used by many family members.
family isn’t sure how the last name “Ten” ended up on his
military records … that was a childhood nickname the young man’s
friends teased him with because he had 10 sisters.
complicate matters, the family has found Ten’s first name (which
was actually “Ashkii,” Navajo for “boy”) variously spelled
as “Husky” and “Huskie.”
those days, nobody around here spoke English very well,”
explained Ten’s niece, Helene Nez-Hill. “They were pretty much
at the mercy of anyone who wrote something down in English.”
family, in fact, was surprised when Gorman approached them about
applying for a Medal of Honor. As far as they knew, said Nez-Hill,
Ten had accidentally stepped on a land mine.
“It’s possible someone didn’t translate well when they
presented my grandparents with the medal,” she surmised.
Arizona Republic article is the only surviving record of the
ceremony. Under a photograph of two obviously grief-stricken
elderly Navajos identified as “Mr. and Mrs. Ashihi Ten”
(although their descendants say they didn’t use that name)
accepting the boxed medal, the reporter records that a 1st Lt.
John Salter read the citation, with a clerk from the Piñon
Trading Post translating into Navajo.
little formal education, still reeling from the death of their
offspring, listening to a translated account, is it possible Ten’s
parents didn’t understand the significance of the award?
think to them, the main thing was that they had lost a son,” she
said. “I remember my mother (Ten’s sister) saying, ‘When we
(Navajos) signed the treaty, they told us to put our guns down.
Why did they take our kids to fight the enemy?’”
nephew Don Sage, who also fought in the Vietnam War, was serving
in San Diego when he got word of Ten’s death. Even as a fellow
soldier, the heroic nature of Ten’s actions didn’t really sink
in, he recalled.
my own things to think about back then,” he said Friday. “I
think I’m feeling (Ten’s death) more right now than I did
Ten was a gentle, soft-spoken man, not a natural fighter.
didn’t volunteer,” he noted, “He got drafted. When you think
of somebody laying down his life for his unit when he didn’t
even want to be there, I think it makes it even more striking.”
biography could be composed of family memories, it would be a
thick book. All the nieces and nephews remember their uncle the
same way: tall and strong, a natural leader who always had time
for the children in the clan, “and there were billions of us,”
everyone remembers how he dressed.
always, in a white T-shirt,” said Nez-Hill.
added Begay, “It was always very clean,” which is nothing
short of amazing when one looks around the windswept, dusty
environs of Old Tree Ranch, where Ten grew up.
government wants paper, not memories, so Gorman and Ten’s family
continue the search. Another nephew, John Henry Nez, even traveled
to Oklahoma to find the old Indian school Ten attended as a child,
only to be told they never had a Navajo student.
said they had some Arapahos,” he said. “Navajo, Arapaho — it
rhymes. Maybe they’re just confused.”
their quest to properly honor Ten is unsuccessful, said Begay, it
has drawn the family together and made them take a closer look at
like I’m just now getting to know my uncle, even though he died,”
has some knowledge of Ten’s life and wishes to help with the
quest, he or she is urged to call Gorman at 928-674-2224.
is something our whole tribe should get behind,” said Gorman, as
Ten would be the first Diné to receive the military’s highest