VOLK FIELD, Wis. — About 200 people gathered on Veterans Day to commemorate 28 Ho-Chunk men – known as Winnebago Indians in 1917 — from the area surrounding this National Guard training base who joined the Wisconsin National Guard 100 years ago for the “Great War” in Europe.
The families of these warriors — known as Descendants of Red Arrow — have met at Volk Field since 1977 to celebrate their service, their memory, and the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division, which continues today as the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered perhaps a mile from the hangar hosting the annual pow-wow.
“This is our 40th anniversary — the pow-wow originally started with my uncle, Bill Miner, Jr.,” said Quentin Thundercloud, a member of Descendants of Red Arrow and long-time coordinator of the event. “We are celebrating 100 years since the 32nd Division formed back in 1917.
“It started out as Daughters of Red Arrow with my mother and her cousins,” Thundercloud continued. “Their fathers were in World War I and they decided to do this so we don’t forget — because the descendants have to know that, without them going to war and surviving, most of us would not be here today.”
Although the group has grown to honor all Ho-Chunk military veterans at the annual pow-wow, this year’s event focused on the original 28 men who joined Mauston’s Company D, 3rd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment 100 years ago — the unit that would become the 32nd Division’s Company D, 128th Infantry Regiment and fight in four major campaigns in France.
“Led by the Miner and DeCorah families, these men came from Camp Douglas, Mauston, Lyndon Station, Wisconsin Dells and Juneau County,” Thundercloud said. “They were not citizens and did not have to serve, but volunteered to do so. They formed up here at the base and headed down to Texas before they shipped out overseas.”
The event began with a rifle salute before family members of those veterans who had passed raised a line of American flags in honor of their service. Drummers from the Ho-Chunk tribe then played a warriors’ song.
“Family members attach the flag that draped their veteran’s coffin during their funeral, and we raise those flags to honor them,” Thundercloud said.
Attaching one of the flags was Delia DeCorah Maisells, daughter of Cpl. Russius DeCorah of Company D.
“I am here today honoring my dad and I thought this is where I belong, to show my respect for him, so I brought my dad’s flag to hang with the others today,” Maisells said.
Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, assistant adjutant general for readiness and training — and a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa — spoke at the event of the Wisconsin National Guard’s important dual mission as the nation’s first military responder in times of emergency, and as the Army’s primary combat reserve. She also provided a brief history of the 32nd Division and honored all who have worn the uniform.
“There are a select and noble few in this great nation who are willing to do stand up and say ‘send me’ when their nation asks ‘who will go?’” Mathews said, “because they believe in what America stands for and what it means to the people around the world.”
The Descendants of the Red Arrow presented Mathews with a ceremonial blanket that signifies wrapping the receiver with respect and admiration, and then conducted an honor song for her while she led a dance.
“The dance honored my service and thanked me for my accomplishments as a Native American,” Mathews explained. “The respect for veterans is an integral part of Native American culture, and when anyone does an honor song for me, it is the most humbling experience.”
Michael Day, the event’s emcee, then called the descendants of Company D forward and presented them a willow staff adorned with an eagle feather and piece of red yarn signifying the Red Arrow Division.
“This is yours, this is for your family — this is the best way we thought to say ‘thank you’ to your family member,” Day said. “We left it simple because we didn’t want to presume how you would decorate it to honor your ancestor.”
A series of pow-wow dances honored Brig. Gen. Mathews, Company D family members and then all veterans in attendance regardless of tribal membership. During the dance that retired the colors, Lt. Col. David Sands — former 32nd Brigade executive officer — carried the Descendants of Red Arrow flag.
“The grandfather of one of my best friends was one of these men of Company D, and I wanted to personally make sure that Red Arrow was represented here today,” Sands said.
Beginning this year and continuing next year, the Wisconsin National Guard is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division and the service of 15,000 Wisconsin National Guardsmen in World War I with its Dawn of the Red Arrow commemoration program. Follow www.dawnoftheredarrow.com or the Dawn of the Red Arrow Facebook page for more.