Cedric Red Feather doesn't remember when he was severely wounded in Vietnam. He woke up later in an Army hospital in Japan with amnesia. Twenty-some years later he learned the details about when he was injured from the man who risked his life to save him.
An enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, Red Feather, lives in the Twin Cities suburb of Oak Grove, Minn.
A Purple Heart recipient, Red Feather was severely injured in Vietnam 43 years ago in February 1970. He served in Vietnam from 1969-70.
On Memorial Day 2012, President Obama launched a national six-year observance of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
When Red Feather, who was born at Elbowoods on the Fort Berthold Reservation, was injured, he was a gunner on a tank that was ambushed. He was blown off the tank and would have been left for dead with his fellow soldiers but Ray Hoske, a Navaho and the only other Native American in the unit, risked his life to rescue Red Feather.
Seventeen years later, Red Feather was presented the Purple Heart by now former Sen. Kent Conrad.
"The reason it happened that way is when I got wounded in Vietnam I didn't know what happened to me. I woke up in a hospital in Japan," said Red Feather, in a recent phone interview with The Minot Daily News.
Red Feather awoke in the Army hospital in Camp Zama, Japan, with amnesia. Back home on the Fort Berthold Reservation, Army representatives went to his mother's home and told her that he was missing in action but assured her the Army was looking for him.
Red Feather had suffered skull fractures, a broken neck, a broken collarbone and numerous other injuries.
"I couldn't speak up for myself and didn't know what happened to me," he said."I used to memorize my dog tags for the doctors when they came and made their rounds so they'd know who I was," he said.
His memory started coming back a little bit while in the hospital in Japan.
Janet Michele Red Feather, Cedric's former wife, said his sacrifices are "very, very real." She explained in information provided to her by Cedric for The Minot Daily News:
"Having been blown off the tank, he had to have one ear reattached it was hanging by a hinge, to be graphic. He ruptured both ear drums and efforts to create grafts to close the puncture sites were unsuccessful. He has major bilateral hearing loss, as most of the structures of the inner ear were also damaged in the blast, etc. and there are no scilliary hairs on the cochlea, according to an Omaha audiologist. The doctor also advised Red Feather that he will have gradual bone loss inside the ears. He has digital hearing aids, but they're not much help in settings full of ambiant sound.
"The ear issues affect his balance. He still receives physical therapy at the Veterans Administration Hospital for this. He has chronic back and neck pain. He's 100 percent service-connected with VA so he doesn't ever charge people money for what he offers in the spiritual.
"His PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is by far the worst aspect of the injuries. He still has nightmares and ruminations about the war. He has to keep moving all the time; he has startle response and hyper-vigilance and all the "textbook" symptoms this entails. It's very difficult for him every day, but he has a really good attitude and lots of perseverence... and he never complains."
Twenty-five years after he was wounded, Cedric and Janet Michele went to Chinole, Ariz., to meet Ray Hoske, the Navajo man who rescued him in Vietnam.
"It was an emotional reunion for the both of us," Cedric Red Feather said. He and Hoske were the only two American Indians in the 4th Infantry Division's unit.
"I asked him what happened to me? I don't know what happened to me?" Red Feather said.
Hoske told him about the ambush and firefight. "They weren't going to go get you," Hoske told him.
But Hoske got his personal Native American medicine, something many Native Americans carry, and ran out into the battlefield to get Red Feather. He knew Red Feather's glasses were important so he stuck them in his shirt pocket. "I remember doing that putting your glasses in your shirt pocket. I grabbed you and I started dragging you back," he told Red Feather. Hoske was shot and injured while doing so.
Red Feather said apparently the rescue helicopters were on their way.
"Ray said the last time I saw you they were putting me in a chopper and they were putting you in a different chopper. That's the last time I saw you," Red Feather said Hoske told him.
A few weeks later, Red Feather's mother received word that the American Red Cross had found him and that he was in a hospital in Japan.
Later he was flown to California and then to Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Denver. He was subsequently hospitalized in about 20 veterans' hospitals because of his injuries.
After Vietnam, alcoholism took over his life for 15 years. He then turned his life around and pursued a spiritual life.
"I have 28 years of sobriety. I know that journey also," he said.
Among his people the Mandan people of the Fort Berthold Reservation Red Feather is a waxikenas (pronounced "wah-Kick-en-uh"), a Mandan turtle priest. He is responsible for transmitting the stories, songs, prophecies and ceremonies to the next generation of Mandan waxikenas.
As the youngest son of a Nuptadi Mandan to reach adulthood, he is a waxikena by birth. As a Mandan turtle priest, he has helped many people, Janet Michele Red Feather said.
"I have helped people with different things. I'm not a cure-all for all people," Cedric Red Feather said. He said if he can help someone he will but if he can't, he will tell them.
Red Feather was born Cedric Mandan. He changed his name to Red Feather after returning from Vietnam. The late Sam Little Owl, another waxikena from Twin Buttes, gave him the name The Red Feather Man since he had been wounded in Vietnam.
Red Feather has written a book, "Mandan Dreams." The recently published book by Galde Press in Lakeville, Minn.,
(www.galdepress.com) and edited by Cynthia Colvin of Hamilton, Ill., is the only formal book on Mandan culture and spirituality written by a Mandan. The book is extensively about the Fort Berthold Reservation and its people.
He pointed out: "It's a book for all people. We're all together. We're all traveling the same journey."
The book's cover has a photograph of the late Ralph Little Owl after he returned from World War II. Little Owl also was a waxikena from Twin Buttes.
"I learned from Ralph Little Owl and from Sam Little Owl. We shared the prophecies, we shared ceremonies ..." Red Feather said.
He said the beloved Mandan chief Four Bears also was a Mandan turtle priest.
Janet Michele Red Feather is the ceremonial singer for Cedric. She sings in eight different languages, including Mandan, Lakota and Hidatsa. She teaches composition and literature at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minn.
Cedric Red Feather talks about oral histories, prophecies and traditions of the Mandans and about his journeys during his life in his book. He also tells about a tragedy that struck his family in March 1951 when he was only about 1 year old and his father, Victor Mandan, died in a blizzard. His father had gone to Elbowoods to get groceries. Elbowoods was a community on the Fort Berthold Reservation now covered by Lake Sakakawea.
"Elbowoods was down by the river by Twin Buttes," Red Feather told The Minot Daily News.
When Victor Mandan went to Elbowoods to get supplies, Red Feather's mother, Bernice, remained at their home with their seven boys, without food and fuel.
"When he was there (in Elbowoods) he was told a storm was coming and he should not travel but should stay in Elbowoods. He said, 'no, I have to get back. I have all those little boys up in the cabin,' " Red Feather said.
The cabin was about 10 miles from Elbowoods. "We lived up in the high country," he said. He said his father was running horses and cattle there.
Victor Mandan started to make the trip back to the family cabin. "But he got caught in the blizzard and my father died," Red Feather said. His father's body was found about a half mile or mile from the cabin. In August 1951, his mother gave birth to their only sister, Victoria.
"After my father died, my brothers went to work. I ended up staying with my grandmother (Anna Young Bird Mandan) in Independence (an area on Fort Berthold)," he said. He went to boarding school in South Dakota and to high school at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, N.M.
After Vietnam, Cedric graduated from Minot State University with a bachelor of arts degree in art. From Minot, he went to the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia and then received a scholarship to the University of Memphis where he was working on his master's degree in fine arts. He also worked as a tour guide at the Chucalissa Museum and Archaeological Site in Memphis, Tenn.
Native Americans serving
Reflecting on military service, Red Feather said many Native Americans have fought in wars and are continuing to fight in them. "In almost every war, people from our family have been there," he said.
Red Feather said he always remembers that his uncle, Bernard Mandan, who served in the Marines during World War II, told him: "If this country is ever at war, fight for it..." His uncle also told him "we don't care about the politics, we don't care about everything the politicians talk about."
Two of Red Feather's brothers, Tommy and Orville Mandan, also served in the military in Vietnam and another brother, Victor Gordon Mandan, was a civilian employee in Vietnam. Tommy Mandan also was wounded in action. Another brother, Gilson Mandan, served in peacetime. Cedric Red Feather is a life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and has attended two of the group's conventions.
Later this month, Red Feather will give a presentation at Bemidji State Univerity at Bemidji, Minn. He will also give a presentation about alcoholism and his book at United Tribes Technical College at Bismarck.
"People can overcome poverty through education," Red Feather said. "They can overcome prejudice through spirituality. They can. I did it for life through sobriety. These are things that I've overcome and they can do it."