VOLK FIELD, Wis. — Nearly a century ago, 28 able-bodied Ho-Chunk men — known as Winnebago Indians in 1917 — from the area surrounding this National Guard training base volunteered to join the Wisconsin National Guard for the “Great War” in Europe.
And for nearly four decades, the descendants of those warriors have met here to celebrate their service, their memory, and the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division, which endures today as the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered perhaps a mile from the hangar hosting the annual pow-wow.
“The fine example set by these men is worthy of exceptional praise because they were not even considered full-fledged citizens of this country when they decided on military service,” said Michael Day, master of ceremonies. He noted that Walter and Robert Decorah were killed in action on Aug. 5, 1918.
“Their deaths were not in vain, Day said. “This nation exists today only because of the willingness of these brave men to preserve and protect their country by giving their lives. A number of you here today are descendants of these men, and I want to thank you for being here, and I want to thank you for your support.”
Quentin Thundercloud looked on with pride as the 39th annual Veterans Day Pow-Wow unfolded. Years ago he helped his uncle William Miner organize the annual event, which has grown to honor all Ho-Chunk military veterans, and assumed a broader responsibility after Miner’s death in the mid-1990s. He plans to enlist younger family members to learn the logistics of running the event to ensure it continues.
“It’s a learning experience for a family,” Thundercloud said. “Somebody’s got to carry it on — somebody’s got to teach things. I think we’re going to continue on.”
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson commanded the 32nd Infantry Brigade — the descendant of the storied “Red Arrow” Division — before becoming Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, and spoke at the event.
“I think of the long history the 32nd Infantry has, and then I think of the history of the Native Americans here in the state of Wisconsin,” Anderson said. “There’s such an intimate connection between the Native American culture and their propensity to want to serve their country [and their] connection with the 32nd Infantry Brigade.”
Day spoke of a unity that goes beyond the brother-in-arms comradery. He shared a lesson about Indian corn he learned from his grandfather, Ralph Miner.
“He said, ‘Look here — there’s a white [kernel], there’s a black one, there’s a brown one, a yellow one,” Day recalled. “‘You see, we were shown a long time ago that one day we would all be here together, all these different colors.’
“That lesson is still with me today,” Day continued. “We’re better when we choose to live together, one heart, one mind, one voice. That’s why we’re here today, too. Let’s be strong together.”
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the 32nd Infantry Division, as well as the 40th anniversary of the annual pow-wow.
“We’ll have some big plans for next year,” Thundercloud said.