Honoring American Indian Veterans: Pine Ridge
It’s almost a year to the day that I met Calvin Clifford, Sr. on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He welcomed Thelma (one of the nurses that cares for him) and I into his room and shared his veteran stories with us. Calvin was in the Special Forces of the US Army, serving in World War II. He was almost 92 years old when we met and recalled the way of horse and buggy, saying “there’s wasn’t any honk-honk.” I assumed that since there were no cars, he was a skilled horseman. He just chuckled and said, “I rode horses, but I wasn’t good…as I got older, the ground got harder!”
Calvin recalled his time in the Army as if it was yesterday and talked about what is like to be away from his family. He first learned about the bombing of Pearl Harbor at a gun club. He was shooting clay pigeons for a chance to win his family a Christmas turkey. He admitted it would have been cheaper just to buy the turkey outright. :”)
Calvin recalled receiving “four greetings” from the President of the United States (in the form of military draft letters). It was 1944 and he remembered the bus stopped right in the middle of the highway to gather the new recruits. He spent his time serving his country stateside and traveled back home to Pine Ridge to raise his family (two sons and a daughter) with his wife, Jeanette. They were married for 58 years before she passed away.
It was clear from our conversation and the bulletin board hanging over his bed that his family and military service remained an important constant during his life. He even captured his love story on paper, stories he dictated to his wife to share with future generations. Calvin recently passed away, but his smile and sense of humor, his commitment to country, and his love of family will remain in my heart for many years to come.
**Laura Schad is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in SD. She holds an Associate’s in Early Childhood Education from Oglala Lakota College. For over a decade, Laura worked with Head Start and rural initiatives. Currently, she does field visits with NRC Program Partners and participants on many reservations.