‘Forgotten warriors’ honored
Republic of Korea awards medals to
Nathan J. Tohtsoni
Shirleen Jim and her father-in-law Frank
CITY (Nov. 15, 2001) - Snuggled safely under her left arm,
Mary R. Begay embraced an American flag that was presented to
her 16 years ago when her husband, a military veteran,
71-year-old Begay brings out the flag only on special
occasions. Two days before Veterans Day, it was one of those
special days when she traveled nearly 200 miles from her home
in Iyanbito, N.M., located in the Eastern Agency, to Tuba
City, on the western end of the Navajo Nation.
Nov. 9, at the Tuba City High School pavilion was a day no
different than any other except that it was a cool, autumn day
where Begay's late husband, John Nez Begay, was being honored
for serving his country during the Korean War.
also a day that military and private citizens from the
Republic of Korea were on hand to see 86 Navajo men and widows
receive the Republic of Korea War Service Medal bestowed upon
American soldiers by the Korean government over 50 years ago.
ABOVE Korean War veteran Piasso
Narciso of Alamo, N.M., accepts a handshake from
Lt. Col. Hanbin Park, Korean Liaison Officer,
after receiving his medal.
Harry Nez of Tuba City shows off his
the only medal from the Korean War that is recognized by a
government other than the United States.
sad," Begay said, as she held back tears with a swipe of her
right hand. "I feel sad about it because I wish he was still
alive. I feel like crying. I just held it back but my tears
will still come out."
The Republic of Korea originally offered the
medal in 1951 to the United Nations' forces "to express the
heartfelt appreciation" of fighting for democracy against a
communist force. But because of an oversight by the U.S.
government, the offer was forgotten only to be detected two
those men who fought in the Korean War, it does feel at times
that they are the "forgotten warriors," as described by a
is a recognition that was overdue," said Donald Bitsilly, 66,
of Greasewood Springs, Ariz. "Even in our own chapters, we are
hardly recognized - and then it's only at this time of the
year (Veterans Day) they recognize us."
way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war, the U.S.
and Korean governments are conducting ceremonies across the
country where the medal would be presented to veterans who
served in the three-year conflict.
Approximately 1.8 million veterans across the country
are eligible for the medal.
Navajo Nation Veterans Affairs Department submitted 671 names
but the U.S. Department of Defense approved only 155. More
veterans could be honored if they meet the medals' criteria,
veterans' affairs office director Leo Chischilly
Chee, 69, of Page, Ariz., didn't care why the medal was being
presented, he was just grateful that the Korean government
sent a contingent of its citizens to honor him and his fellow
really appreciative," Chee said. "I'm glad all these Korean
people came over here."
Chischilly said a main reason that Korean dignitaries
made the trip to Tuba City is because the tribe has a large
number of Korean War veterans and is a member of the 50th
anniversary commemoration committee.
pretty exciting to know that there are a lot of veterans who
are from the Navajo Nation," said Korean Consulate General
Public Relations Consul Seok Joong Yoon. "This is a very
meaningful occasion. This is probably one of the most
concentrated areas of veterans living in one place."
order to be eligible to receive the medal, a person must have
served between June 25, 1950 and July 27, 1953; been on
permanent assignment or on temporary duty for 30 consecutive
days or 60 nonconsecutive days; and performed their duty
within Korean territorial limits or support of actual combat
Answering the call
U.S. Air Force Gen. Nels Running said Navajo men and women
have a reputation of answering the call when the country needs
them. He said the world, not only Korea, has much to thank for
the DinŽ in providing freedom.
on the Navajo Nation, you are rich with traditions, some of
the strongest traditions," Running said. "So strong that when
you answered the call of the United Nations and America, you
went to a country and people you did not know. The Republic of
Korea would not exist today if you did not answer the call."
added that the Navajo Code Talkers who served in World War II
are further examples of that "demonstration of heroism of this
generation of Navajo warriors."
the three-and-a-half hour ceremony, a Korean dancing group
performed songs and dances. As a bouquet of balloons was
presented from the dancers to the veterans, a recorded voice
expressed the Korean sentiment.
honoring this gift of peace," the voice said, "we're honoring
not a Christian God, or a Buddhist God, or an Islamic God or a
Jewish God, but a God of all humanity. Not a Christian peace,
but a human peace for all of us humans. Like a nation cannot
be bigger than the Earth itself, we are all one ... Before we
are Indians, before we are Koreans, before any other race, God
made the Earth. We have to realize we are of the Earth."
dancing troupe then performed several more dances and a drum
Describing his age as around 74, Lawrence Thomas of
Indian Wells, Ariz., was appreciative of the medal but it was
knowing that his fellow Korean veterans were being recognized
that made the trip worthwhile. He began receiving his military
pension 43 years after being discharged because he had other
forgot all about myself. I just want to help the people,
that's all," said the former Post 71 American Legion District
6 vice commander. "I didn't think of receiving anything
(today), the only thing on my mind was to eat."
Trujillo, 71, of Nageezi, N.M., added the Korean War service
medal to his already impressive collection of military medals
including the Bronze Medal, Purple Heart, Infantry Combat
Badge, Service Medal and Campaign Medal, which was presented
five times for the five major battles he was involved in.
Narciso, 70, of Alamo, N.M., who speaks limited English,
called the commemoration ceremony "wonderful." He and his
family made the 325-mile one-way trip the day before. He
thanked the Republic of Korea government for remembering the
men who fought and lost their lives defending South Korea from
the communist North Korean forces.
dignitaries were invited to the ceremony but the only one who
attended in person was President Kelsey Begaye. A Vietnam
veteran, he thanked the men for their sacrifice.
must not forget that the freedom we have is not free," Begaye
said. "Many generations will benefit from your commitment."
Surviving family members can receive the medal for
deceased eligible veterans. Combat nurses who treated patients
wounded in combat are also eligible.
Information: Navajo Nation Veterans Affairs Office, at
928-729-4010 in Fort Defiance, 928-674-2224 in Chinle,
505-786-2030 in Crownpoint, 505-368-1013 in Shiprock,
928-283-3029 in Tuba City or 928-871-6413 in Window Rock.
Begay cuddled the American flag, she proudly displayed the
newest collection of military accolades her late husband
earned. She briefly showed off the medal with family members
and then sat down holding the flag that brings pride knowing
her husband defended his country.
"It makes me feel strong when the wind waves it.
I will never forget ... ," she said, unable to finish. And
like the retiring of the colors by the Luke Air Force Base
Color Guard, she quietly exited the gym feeling proud of her
late husband's place in American