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Veterans gather to honor forgotten warriors

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Many support Kerry for president

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. - American Indian Vietnam veterans recently gathered to
honor the forgotten warriors of the Korean War. The day began with the news
that seven more U.S. troops had been killed in Iraq.

When Vietnam veterans gather, conversation tends more to the problems that
plague them today. The conversation about Iraq brings back memories and
frustration over what many of the returning war veterans will face in their
lives unless they receive proper medical treatment.

"I have been divorced five times, from the same woman and I am still with
her," said Tommy Thompson, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. "Post Traumatic
Stress disorder (PTSD) caused me to become an alcoholic."

Thompson has gone through treatment, is seeing a psychiatrist, attends
regular meetings and treatments at a VA hospital and is trying to treat his
family properly after years of abuse. He said he was volatile, angry and
hated the federal government and wanted nothing to do with the military
when he returned from a 14-month duty in Vietnam where he was wounded three
times. He received a Bronze Star for bravery when he saved another
soldier's life.

Thompson is a member of the Red Feather Society, one of the highest honors
for Lakota veterans.

Thompson, after 30 years has finally received full disability. But it
wasn't easy. He had to enlist the help of South Dakota Democratic Senators
Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson.

And what can the veterans who return from Iraq expect? The same things as
the Vietnam veterans have battled for some 30 years.

"Veterans are frightened as hell," Thompson said.

The stories of the Vietnam veterans that have been told for years are
horrifying, problems include depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide,
criminal activity and more.

Today those same veterans have sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and also
know many friends who have relatives in Iraq.

At the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Fair, Pow Wow and Rodeo there were many
signs the reminded people to support the troops in Iraq and elsewhere.
During the ceremony to honor the Korean War veterans, people were reminded
that more American Indians volunteered to serve the United States in
military operations per capita than any other ethnic or racial group.

At nearly every pow wow, ceremony, graduations and other gatherings
American Indian veterans are honored, and they accept that honor with
pride. Thompson said after he discovered the American Indian veteran's
organization he had someone to talk to about what he was going through. He
put on the uniform he vowed never again to wear and is now a proud
participant in honor guards and also helps tell returning Iraqi veterans
what they can expect.

But for all their patriotism and pride to wear the uniform, President
George W. Bush will not get their support.

"We end up as terrorists. We go to an Islamic country and impose our rule
on them. It's the Crusades all over again," Austin Cook, Cheyenne River
Sioux Tribe and a veteran of the Gulf War said.

His idea was to focus more at home. If we had, he said, maybe 9/11 could
have been avoided.

Korean veteran Henry Charging said, "We have experienced terrorism since
1492 and we are still fighting - hell yeah!

"We will never forget, but we have forgiven. They haven't forgotten. We
will never forget Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Little Big Horn, the Wagon Box,
but the difference is we forgive. We don't say things with anger anymore."

Charging's solution to terrorism? "As the killing continues there will
never be peace. We must pray, sincerely to the Creator, and bring the
troops home."

He said the solution is beyond any human leadership it is left to the
highest power and go back to spiritual leadership. "I feel sorry for the
current leadership, but for Bush, he must remember, what goes 'round, comes
'round."

The Lakota people believe in prophecy and many of the spiritual leaders are
speaking out about some of the prophecies coming true. "That is the essence
of who we are," Charging said.

The Lakota veterans share knowledge of why the United States is in Iraq and
what the outcome will be, and they don't like it. They and their ancestors
experienced the same thing. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills and
waves of settlers and soldiers came to move the Lakota and other tribes out
so the non-Indian could get the gold and the land.

There is oil in Iraq and it will end up the same as here, the veterans
agreed.

What the veterans want are more centers to treat returning war veterans for
the same symptoms they have suffered for years. There are only four
treatment centers in the United States and not enough homeless shelters and
homes where veterans can go for safety and nurturing care.

Many of the veterans that belong to the Lakota organizations spend their
time in VA hospitals talking to veterans of recent wars.

"I wish someone had talked to me like that when I came back," Thompson
said.

On the Blackfeet reservation, Stan Juneau collected 75 signatures of
veterans for Kerry. He said he attended only two pow wows and some
gatherings around town. The Blackfeet reservation has some 400 veterans, of
which Juneau said he hoped to get almost all of them to sign the petition.

"One Vietnam veteran told me that if Kerry gets in Vietnam vets will get
honor and respect that has been denied all these years. I think a lot of
vets signed up because hey don't like or don't feel [President] Bush is
doing what he should."

Juneau also said that the support for Kerry may be because of a combination
of military and American Indian issues. Poverty, joblessness, better
medical care and housing all play a part in the decision to support a
candidate.

At the Cheyenne River Sioux Fair, Pow Wow and Rodeo many veterans could be
seen wearing Kerry buttons on their uniforms.

Don Two Hawk has a personal story that influences his political views. His
son, Sergeant Dan Two Hawk was found dead on the West Point Campus
two-years ago. He was assigned to the campus as part of the Military
Police. The government, he said, has covered up and lied about his son's
death and the Pentagon offers no believable explanation.

Two Hawks' body was found at the bottom of a hill by three civilians who
began the search after nearly 100 military personnel could not find him. He
was listed as AWOL at first. Don Two Hawks said his son had just reenlisted
for six years, had an impeccable military record and would have never gone
AWOL.

The government's explanation of the death: Alcohol caused him to fall over
an embankment. Two Hawks said an autopsy proved the alcohol theory wrong
and marks on the body did not indicate any fall occurred.

Two Hawks is still waiting for the government to investigate the incident.

Two Hawks said what many veterans have said: They will support a candidate
that will provide veterans with better medical treatment and also treat
them with dignity.