Wednesday, November 11, 2015
A real hero
A story from my e-book Spirits of Cibola County James Amos knows firsthand that following and trusting an all-knowing entity greater than oneself will lead us to extraordinary experiences. James was the most talked about veteran during the recent viewing of the Vietnam Moving Wall in Grants. I am honored that he trusted me to tell his story. A member of the Sioux tribe, James was born in South Dakota. There were eighteen children in the family and fourteen lived to be adults. Both his father and grandfather were Presbyterian ministers. James remembers prejudice, almost hatred, between the Sioux and the white man. Because the Bureau of Indian Affairs could not pronounce tribal names they were changed to biblical ones. His father’s name, Fights the Bear (because he was mauled by a bear) was changed to David. His mother, Morning Dove, became Mary. With such a large family, James said, “I had to work to buy my own clothes and learned early that if I wanted something I would have to work for it.” He began working on a cattle ranch when he was eleven. After being shamed by a boy for wearing a second hand shirt he had purchased, James vowed he would always have money to buy new clothes. In school James was interested in sports. He was a runner, played baseball and basketball and participated in track. Even though he was the only Native American in his high school, he does not recall prejudice touching him. James joined the Marine Corps in 1957, shortly after graduation. Among other assignments, James volunteered for several tours of duty in Vietnam. His most harrowing experience occurred in 1969 as a staff sergeant, in charge of seven men. They were on a special operations mission. He recalls, “We were given the wrong maps and dropped off in the wrong location.” Their confusion lasted for two months. James trusted his training and his spirit guide. He said their daily goal was to find a way out. Their biggest concerns were ambush and heat stroke. The temperatures rose to 120 degrees during the day, causing them to consume salt tablets like popcorn. They traveled mostly at night because it was cooler, moving less than a mile each night. He said, “We survived off of Mother Nature. We made water from leaves and ate snakes and lizards.” As time went on the parents of the men were informed they were missing in action and presumed dead or prisoners of war. James finally led his men to a place he knew, ironically called Indian Country. It took another month for the military to officially inform families that the men were not dead. James was not honored for getting his men out alive. He was actually reprimanded for getting them lost, even though it was not his fault. This might have caused an ordinary man to become angry and give up. James rose above the injustice of the experience and moved on. During an ambush in 1971 he fell behind a termite mound and was bitten by a cobra snake. Reliving the experience, he said, “I was in such intense pain I walked toward the battle field hoping to get a bullet in my head or heart. Then my Indian guide took over and I forgot about my pain.” One by one James helped six fellow Marines to safety. Others noticed the seriousness of his leg wound and he was given needed medical care. He was recommended for the Navy Cross and awarded the Silver Star. He still has mixed feelings about the award. In 1972 James was wounded during a medical evacuation and lost his right kidney as a result. He fought three medical boards to stay in the service. He has had one failed kidney transplant and has been on dialysis for sixteen years. He also suffered a stroke in 1986 due to the snake bite. James retired in 1979 with the rank of First Sergeant E-8. He and his wife, Louise, of Acoma were married in 1970. At the time he was a recruiter for the Marine Corps. James is very proud that one of his grandsons is planning to become a Marine. Characteristics that are important to James are honesty and respect. Even though he is retired he is still “a dedicated Marine who believes in God, country and duty- in that order”. He would like to see young men who are having trouble adapting consider the military for new direction. James made daily trips to the Vietnam Moving Wall while it was in Grants, New Mexico. He was drawn to the wall because of respect for his fallen comrades. Perhaps he was sent to touch the hearts of people who were not in Vietnam and still do not understand what happened there. He knows that any material award pales in comparison to knowing deep inside that he does his best every single day to trust and follow his spirit guide. He is a real live hero we can all learn from. author's note: James Amos is now deceased, but I am grateful to have had the privilege to interview a real hero.