Tradition celebrated during Native American Heritage observance
November 30, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Nearly 400 members of the Fort Stewart community gathered to celebrate National Native American Heritage Month at a ceremony hosted by USA MEDDAC Nov. 22 in the Club Stewart ballroom.
The event began with a traditional Native American dance preformed by Ruben Lovato of the Comanche Nation, and it was followed by the oral tradition of storytelling by Maj. James Jackson -- a Third Infantry Division Soldier and a Cherokee Indian. However, it was the guest speaker Master Sgt. (retired) Charles Norman Shay, who captivated everyone with a detailed account of his military service.
Master Sgt. Shay was drafted shortly after high school in 1943 and trained to be a medic at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind. He is one of the more than 44 thousand Native Americans who served in the military during World War II -- even though they did not yet have the right to vote. Now at age 87, the Penobscot Indian travels the country telling his story.
During the Fort Stewart ceremony, the mostly military audience was immediately transported back through time to the beaches of Normandy in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944.
"At 5 a.m., the first wave of assault troops headed toward Omaha Beach," Shay said. "I served as a first-aid man in Fox Company, which together with Easy Company, spearheaded the invasion launched by 'The Big Red One'. We entered hell. Many of us had never been in combat and the sea soon turned into a bloodbath."
Shay told war stories for nearly an hour, recounting his experiences not only during the battles of World War II, but also in the snowy mountains of Korea, where he received three bronze stars for his heroic efforts to save, treat and evacuate his fellow Soldiers.
Shay was honorably discharged from the Army following the Korean War. However, six months later he joined the Air Force Reserves and the following year he went back on active-duty. Then in 1964, after more than 20 years of military service, he retired. He now says that although he remembers his time in combat vividly, he does not remember all of it fondly.
"One knows that war is hell when dawn comes and one looks out and sees hundreds of dead from the previous night's attack," he said. "I was eager to leave Korea and I was counting the days when I could go back to Indian Island. That day finally came in November 1951, after a full year in Korea I was home, safe and back with my Family. I never looked back -- until recently, when people began asking me to share my personal story."
Celebration of National Native American Heritage Month began in 1990 when President George H. W. Bush signed a joint congressional resolution designating the month of November to honor the service and sacrifice of Native Americans, as well as to recognize their contributions to our nation.