SOUTH GATE, Calif. (Army News Service) -- A hawk circled overhead Saturday at the Native American Veterans Association powwow as Karry Luttge received a medal from the Republic of Korea honoring her father.
At that moment, Luttge sensed the presence of her father, and she knew that he was looking down on her. Her father had served several years in the Army and fought bravely in the Korean War, but he had always been reluctant to talk about his service, Luttge said, even when she repeatedly questioned him about it.
He finally opened up, though, before it was too late.
GROWING UP IN LOS ANGELES
Her father, Cornelio Carrisoza, a Navaho, had a rough time of it growing up in Los Angeles in the 1930s and 40s because of his Native American heritage.
Luttge can relate to his experience. She grew up in Burbank in the 1960s and 70s in a mostly white neighborhood, where she was sometimes shunned. Yet she was always proud of her Native-American heritage.
Luttge has always been proud of her father, too. Growing up, she found that they shared the same interests. They watched football together, went for hikes in the mountains and deserts together, collected coins, fished and both of them loved dogs
"I'm the spitting image of him," she said.
Today, she still recalls one fishing trip when they baited the hooks with baloney. That day, the fish had a feast because they couldn't get the hooks to set.
In April 1969, when she was 9 years old, her parents divorced and Luttge was devastated. Her dad would often visit her, though, but he still refused to discuss his service in the Army.
One possible clue about his time in the service, she suspected, was his civilian career. All his life, he worked as a mechanic at a Los Angeles clay factory.
In August 1999, her dad finally opened up. He told her that he served in the Army from 1952 to 1955, with service in Korea in 1952 and 1953. During the Korean War, he was a tank mechanic, working on the front lines.
That explained his skills as a mechanic. The Army taught him well, Luttge said, and he used what he learned in the Army to transition to civilian life.
What she remembers most today about his account of the war was his constant fear of death. The North Koreans would rain artillery rounds down on them on a regular basis.
When they heard the rounds coming, the men would all dive for the bunkers, she recalled him saying.
On Aug. 22, two weeks after finally opening up to her about his Army experience, he passed away.
KOREAN VETS HONORED
During the powwow Saturday in South Gate, California, hosted by the Native American Veterans Association, a ceremony honored four Korean War veterans, three of whom were present and one who was not -- Luttge's dad.
The three veterans and Luttge each received an "Ambassador for Peace" medal from the Republic of Korea. They also received a proclamation from the Republic of Korea minister of Patriotic and Veterans Affairs.
The proclamation read, in part: "It is a great honor and pleasure to express the everlasting gratitude of the Republic of Korea and our people for the service you and your countrymen have performed in restoring and preserving our freedom and democracy.
"We cherish in our hearts the memory of your boundless sacrifices in helping us re-establish our free nation."