TEXT and PHOTOS By JONNIE MELILLO CLASEN
FORT BENNING, GA – The popularity of a Native American exhibit at Ft. Benning’s Donovan Research Library near Columbus, Ga., kept it on display much longer than originally planned. Taken down at the beginning of March, the exhibit was part of Ft. Benning’s observances for Native American Heritage Month last November.
The exhibit was in honor of WW II veteran and EBCI tribal elder Walker Calhoun and the Cherokee, however, it provided general information on native peoples and focused on their current and past military participation.
Calhoun and two other WW II Cherokee veterans, Frank Jackson and Jerry Wolfe, were among veterans from “the Greatest Generation” who went on an Honor Flight to the WW II Memorial in Washington, DC, last October.
Soldiers viewing the display at the Donovan Research Library were drawn to the story of the late SPC Lori Piestewa, the first service woman and Native American woman killed in Iraq. A Hopi, Piestewa was from Tuba City, Ariz, and was 23 years old when she was killed in a March 2003 ambush near Nasiriyah, Iraq. A summit near Phoenix was renamed “Piestewa Peak” in her honor.
Piestewa chose to be a soldier, following in the footsteps of her father, a Vietnam veteran, and grandfather, a WW II veteran. She was among five warriors featured in an exhibit that debuted May 26, 2003, at the Women’s Memorial in Arlington, Va., honoring contributions of Native American women in the military.
SFC Taylor Rahm Tahbo, a U.S. Army Ranger from the Hopi and Tewa tribes, was the guest speaker at a luncheon celebrating Native American Heritage Month. The luncheon was hosted by the Ft. Benning Ranger Training Brigade (RTB.)
When introducing Tahbo, Col. John W. King II, RTB commander, said that the culture of Native Americans is “well intertwined with today’s Army Rangers,” since both have a strong warrior history. Rahm is an instructor with the 4th Ranger Training Battalion.
During his first duty assignment with the 101st Airborne Division, Tahbo had two deployments with Operation Joint Guardian and Iraqi Freedom.
Tahbo said the special Native American observance was “a time to honor my family and my ancestors, like my great-great-great grandfather, Lewis Tewanima, who won a Silver Medal in track and field in the 1912 Olympics, my great-great-great grandmother, Grace Chapella, a Famous Hopi-Tewa potter, and my father, Taylor Willy Tahbo, a well-known and very respected Indian medicine man.
“When I was a child, my father taught me to always walk tall and be a man,” said Tahbo. “Although he did not know it at the time, he was laying the groundwork for a good soldier. All of the traits that my father taught me have enabled me to have a successful military career.”
Tahbo said the reasons Native Americans, who have the highest per capita enlistment of any ethnic group, join the military are “time-honored traits held high by all Native American societies.” They include “traits my father taught me: wisdom, strength, honor, pride, bravery and spiritual strength — all the makings of a warrior. These are the traits which made them feared opponents in the past and continue to make them courageous warriors today.”
Entertainment at the Native American Appreciation luncheon was provided by Black Mountain Mojave Bird Singers Curtiss Martin, Nikayla Martin and Nathaniel Dick.
The exhibit replacing the Native American display at the Donovan Research Library was on the United States Civil War in the 1860s.