JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Brooke Army Medical Center celebrated the contributions of Native Americans during a National American Indian Heritage Month observance Nov. 26 in the Medical Mall.
This year's theme is "Honoring Our Nations: Building Strength Through Understanding."
"Native Americans have fought in every war since America's founding, and have taken their rightful place as heroes in our nation's history," said Brig. Gen. Wendy Harter, BAMC commanding general.
Harter underscored the contributions of American Indians throughout our military history, highlighting the Native American "code talkers" during World War I and World War II.
"America's enemies were never able to decipher the code talkers' messages," the general said. "These code talkers saved countless American lives by stopping the enemy from gaining valuable information that could have been used to harm our troops."
"Native Americans have profoundly shaped our country's character and our cultural heritage throughout our military and our nation," Harter said.
The guest speaker, Dr. Lee "Eagleboy" Walters, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, read a poem titled "Blackfeet Warrior," which was written for his father, George Walters, to recognize his 28 years of military service.
George Walters has passed away and is buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
"It would have been nice to have my father hear this speech," Walters said. "I share this tribute with you because it is our way that all of our relations should only die once. If we never again share their stories and state their name then they would have died again."
"Each time a story is told it breathes life into our culture," he said. "It gives meaning to our many tribes' history and it teaches life-lessons about honoring our nations."
Walters emphasized that American Indians have served in every branch of the military over the past 200 years sharing stories about prominent Native Americans who have made significant contributions in the military, government and sports.
"These heroes and warriors have helped shape our country," Walters said. "They (Native Americans) have distinct cultural values, which drive them to serve their country. One such value is the proud warrior tradition. The willingness to engage the enemy in battle and defend their land. To be an American Indian Warrior is to have physical, mental and spiritual strength."
Walters concluded by thanking the BAMC team, military members and their families.
"You are true warriors, for we are one people -- Americans," he said.
Erwin De Luna, president of the board of directors for the United San Antonio Pow Wow Inc., who is of Taos Pueblo and Navajo ancestry, and Milo Colton, a professor at St. Mary's University and member of the Winnebago tribe, performed two traditional dances during the ceremony.
Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Oates concluded the observance, thanking all who participated.
"Our strength, in partnership, presents opportunities to educate others of the proud history of great Americans and enables us to experience the cultures and diverse backgrounds that make us great," Oates said.