VOLK FIELD, Wis. - In the shadow of the training fields where Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers - ancestors of the 32nd Infantry Division - encamped and trained, members of the Ho-Chunk Nation gathered to continue a decades-old ceremony honoring their veterans.
"We consider it hallowed ground," said Quentin Thundercloud.
Nearly 100 years ago - before they were legally recognized as U.S. citizens - 28 members of what was then referred to as the Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe enlisted in Company D, 128th Infantry Regiment at Camp Douglas, Wis., for World War I. Among them were 15-year-old Arthur Decorah, his 17-year-old brother Henry, and their father Foster, who was not about to let his sons go to war without him. On Aug. 1, 1918, Henry saw his father killed during combat in France.
Six decades later, daughters of Ho-Chunk members George, John and William Miner held a pow-wow at Volk Field to honor their World War I veterans. They called themselves "Daughters of the Red Arrow," or DORA, but that name would become "Descendants of the Red Arrow."
"I thought it was important that people know the history of our people that went to war in World War I," said Thundercloud, who is William's nephew. "A lot of us wouldn't be here if they had not returned."
Thundercloud explained that a combat veteran who has fought and killed the enemy is entitled to certain rights other tribe members do not receive.
"In our tribe we hold that veteran as one of the highest esteemed persons," he said. "Songs are made for them - we'll sing their song in honor of them. They have the ability to put eagle feathers on their female relatives - that's a right they have. Not everybody can wear a feather."
Over time, the annual pow-wows have honored Ho-Chunk members who have served in all major U.S. conflicts since World War I. Gathered around a ceremonial drum emblazoned with the Red Arrow symbol that identifies the 32nd Division - and today's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered less than a mile away from the pow-wow - the Thundercloud Singers performed songs in honor of each branch of military service, as well as songs honoring Ho-Chunk veterans. The honor guard from the Andrew Blackhawk American Legion Post 129 presented the colors in a solemn dance around the singers. Names of World War I veterans were read, and U.S. flags presented to Ho-Chunk veterans were hoisted aloft in tribute.
"Their unselfish dedication to the preservation of freedom is in keeping with the highest traditions of the Wisconsin Winnebago warriors and United States military service," said Michael Day, who emceed the ceremony. "Remember these people - they are our relatives. That's why we're here today. Remember this - we are the ancestors of tomorrow. How we conduct ourselves is how this tradition will last."
Col. Dave Romuald, Volk Field Air National Guard Base commander, participated in a ceremonial dance and spoke briefly during the ceremony.
"I think it's important that we recognize the veterans that are here today," Romuald said. "I extend my gratitude for your service to our country. It's important the country understand the sacrifice, service and dedication of all veterans."
Romuald also said he would have Airmen visit the pow-wow throughout the day "and witness what real warriors are all about."
Day presented Thundercloud with an eagle wing - a significant honor - in recognition of his faithfulness in organizing the annual pow-wow over the years. Thundercloud helped his uncle organize the event each year, and took on a broader responsibility after William Miner's death in the mid-1990s.
"Without him holding this together as the glue, we wouldn't have this today," Day said, "and we want to thank him."
"We're just trying to keep the culture going, the traditions going," Thundercloud said. "I'm going to try and continue as long as I can."
Marian Miner, a sister of the late William Miner, has also helped with the annual pow-wow almost from its start in 1978.
"Since that was my brother, I've been putting everything I can into it to keep it going and to keep our tradition going," she said. "I'm very proud of my father and his brothers. They all were in the service. My daughters take part because Bill was their uncle, and you do whatever your uncle says. They still carry it on even though he's not here.
"We're proud to be descendants of the Red Arrow."
Listen to the Thundercloud Singers as the colors are posted during the 38th Annual Veterans Day Pow-wow.