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Sing your Strong Heart Song

Nov 10, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

And honor the immense, quiet strength of mothers whose children go to war.

A little girl walked down the ridge on a hot day in late June with her aging grandmother. At 6 years of age, she didn't realize what was happening amid the noise and confusion that precedes a great battle.

She witnessed the most famous fight to ever take place in the American West. George Custer's men were in retreat after being repulsed in their initial attack on the Sioux and Cheyenne village. As the pursuing warriors rode past the elderly woman and her innocent little granddaughter they implored her to leave and take the little girl to safety.

"Grandma go back. It's bad, it's not safe here," the warriors called.

The old woman ignored their pleas and instead began singing a Strong Heart Song with her granddaughter.

"Do your best, think of your children and of your loved ones back here," the old woman sang.

As she sang she raised her hands high in the air to show honor for the young men, some of whom where her own grandsons, as they battled the U.S. Seventh Cavalry in the 100-degree heat that fateful Montana afternoon .

When the battle was over, the young men placed their sashes on the elderly woman's arm to show respect.

Jump ahead 68 years. The Sioux and Cheyenne were at war again, but this time they were fighting for the United States far across the sea in northern France.

No one knows for sure how many Americans Indians answered the call to arms and served their country in World War II, but the first and second waves at Omaha and Utah beaches well-represented by Native men.

One of the sureties of war is that young men die far from home and leave their families in misery.

The little girl from the Little Big Horn was a grandmother herself in 1944. Blind and crippled with age, she stood above the flag-draped coffin of one of her grandsons, a young man killed in combat but returned to his home per his request.

As the young man's funeral proceeded in Little Eagle, S.D., his grandmother's voice rose above the assembled friends and family and sang the same Strong Heart Song she first heard at the Little Big Horn so many years before.

The old woman's hair was wrapped with the sashes given to her by the Dog Soldiers that long-ago afternoon.

She raised her hands once again as she sang to honor her fallen grandson.

"Do your best, think of your children and your loved ones back here."

The Veterans Day holiday stemmed from Armistice Day, a day set aside to celebrate the "War to End All Wars." But as surely as the sun rises, the deep-rooted evil in man will permit an end to war.

Cable television will show endless war movies, with most celebrating the same war that the little girl, now grown old sang about in honoring her grandson.

Bullets, bombs and imminent death provide perhaps the most terrifying backdrop a young man can ever experience.

What is rarely portrayed is the quiet horror suffered by mothers and fathers back home as their sons go into the danger and uncertainty of battle.

It is bad enough today with combat soldiers, sailors and Marines able to call home on cell phones or communicate from their main bases via the Internet. It was pure psychological terror in years gone by when months would pass with no news from their sons.

Young men don't often think of how others are feeling. It's the nature of the vibrancy, strength, blind courage and simple cockiness of youth that prevents them from seeing the world as it really is and how their actions affect others.

It's this same combination of traits that makes them good soldiers.

Older, wiser men won't take the chances that young men routinely do. There is something inherent in their constitutions that can visualize a no-win situation and automatically assume that it doesn't apply to them.

Fathers know this. They were once the same age and had the same invincible attitude. Mothers learn this as well, and it terrifies them.

When my uncle Eugene Gasser was wounded in the Philippines in 1944, he languished in military hospitals for three months before my grandparents heard any news.

His story was not unique. It was the norm in those times.

Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veterans Day have all become vast celebrations of the military. It seems that America is so fixated with armed combat and armed warriors that as a nation we've forgotten the horrible toll it takes on young men physically and on their mothers psychologically.

Women who lose sons in combat are changed forever. This Veterans Day, celebrate military exploits along with the mass media -- but remember the quiet strength of mothers and grandmothers who will always honor their sons and grandsons.

Perhaps you can sing a version of your own Strong Heart Song.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator. He farms in rural Riverton.

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