Osage Nation opens new veterans exhibit

Robert Smith
John Henry Mashunkashey, a veteran of the Vietnam War and commander of American Legion Post 198 in Pawhuska, makes remarks last Thursday, during an Osage Nation program marking the opening of a new exhibit at the Osage Nation Museum that is titled “To Honor and Remember: Osage Veterans and the U.S. Military.” Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

An Osage Nation military veteran who is commander of the Pawhuska post of the American Legion shared heartfelt, frequently personal remarks last Thursday, during the opening ceremonies for a new Osage Nation Museum exhibit.

The exhibit, titled “To Honor and Remember: Osage Veterans and the U.S. Military,” opened Thursday evening. It employs artifacts such as uniforms, photographs, dance clothing and art to help tell the particular story of Osage participation in the U.S. military. The exhibit also shares veteran biographies and personal accounts.

John Henry Mashunkashey, a U.S. Marine veteran of the Vietnam War who is now commander of the Harold Bigheart Smalley Post of the American Legion, made extended remarks during the opening ceremonies. Mashunkashey reflected, duirng remarks at the Osage Nation Veterans Memorial, panels of which bear the names of Osage veterans, on the readiness with which his people have stepped forward to defend the interests of the United States.

“We in the Osage Nation, we’re not very big but we’ve been very well thought of by the United States government as warriors,” Mashunkashey said. He noted that American Legion Post 198 is named for Smalley, who died at the Battle of the Java Sea. He also clarified that the names on the Osage Nation’s memorial include the living as well as the deceased.

“A man asked me yesterday if you had to be dead to be on the wall and I said, ‘I hope I’m not,’” Mashunkashey said with a touch of dry wit. His remarks, which continued in a meeting tent after a flag ceremony at the Osage Nation Veterans Memorial had been completed, were often personal.

“I have a hard time with ‘Taps,’” he said, mentioning the bugle call that frequently concludes military funerals. “I heard it too many times.”

Mashunkashey, who is also a member of the Osage Veterans Memorial Commission, recalled his sorrow over the deaths of brothers in arms.

“And I used to think about my mother when I was there, beccause I didn’t want to go home like that,” he said.

Mashunkashey lamented a tendency to leave Osage culture out of public events, but said he is interested in making sure that Osage Nation tributes to veterans include Osage traditions.

He also shared that he and his father, who was a World War II veteran, never talked with one another about their war experiences until his father reached the age of 90, when his father shared that he revisited scenes from the war in his dreams.

“It’s there forever,” Mashunkashey said his father told him.

Mashunkashey recalled the awareness he had, as a young U.S. Marine engaged in fighting against the North Vietnamese Army, that he was up against other young men who were well trained and determined to do their duty — “They were combat ready, just like we were.”

Marla Redcorn-Miller, director of the Osage Nation Museum, emphasized that when the Osage people honor their veterans, they celebrate all veterans. She described the role of museum staff members as “facilitators of the culture, facilitators of the stories.”

She also explained that she views the new exhibit as a “living exhibit,” which will continue to grow as veterans and their families share their stories.