Sense of Duty to the Land, Not the Government
Powhatan Red-Cloud Owen is a Combat Veteran that served during the Vietnam War in Chu Lai, assigned to the Americal Division – 523rd Signal Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment. As a “31-Mike,” Owen studied Multi-channel Transmission Systems and provided communications support (radio support) for the Army.
After moving to Virginia to live with his Mothers people, the Chickahominy in Charles City County at age 15 and later graduating from Samaria Indian High School, Owen began his two-year military career when he was drafted into the Army at 19 years old.
Owen remembers a memorable interaction with his father. “My dad and I were never real close. He was a traditional person with no formal education and never made a lot of fuss over anything. I remember, he took me aside and told me, ‘you’re going to be tested in the years to come, never forget who you are and where you came from, pray every day and we will pray for you,’ and then he said, ‘come home to us.’ He then simply turned and walked away. There was no embrace, no handshake. I think that would’ve been difficult for both of us, but I knew in his heart he was telling me, his youngest son that he loved me and he was sending me off to an unfamiliar land,” said Owen.
After attending basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey and completing his 31-M training in Fort Gordon, Owen departed for Vietnam on September 19, his Mother’s birthday. After a stopover in Alaska, Owen landed in Vietnam on September 22, his wife’s birthday. After a few months in Vietnam, on December 7, Owen was injured and received burns in combat which caused him to be medevac’d out of the country.
According to Owen, “I remember laying in the hospital and a guy saying, ‘Do you know what today is?’ I didn’t realize it was Pearl Harbor Day. I said, ‘yeah, I know what today is, it’s the day I’m going home.’ I stayed in Japan for two weeks and finally got to Walter Reed on December 22. A couple days later it was Christmas. I was in the hospital from December 1968 until March 1969.”
Once recovered, Owen became a member of the U.S. Army Honor Guard, providing a service not only to his country but a service of giving honor and respect to soldiers that had fallen in the line of duty and were returned home.
“It was a duty of honor,” says Owen. “These guys gave the ultimate sacrifice. I called it the detail of love because these guys, when they came home, they were never left alone. There was always a guard with them 24/7 when they left Vietnam, even on the plane home. We would stand at guard with the body and we would do two or three hour shifts. It was in the middle of the night and they told us we could sit down if we wanted, but out of respect we stood at parade rest. This was the last thing that we could do for them as a soldier.”
Owen reflected on his contributions to the military as an American Indian Veteran. “42,000 indigenous people served in the armed forces in Southeast Asia,” he said. “Some of us lived here as boys and came home as men. We are the warriors that have seen the horrors of war and tasted homesickness. I was 19 years old. I never had to be brave. I never had to show my courage. I was a young lad and I think about my own son when he was 18 and 19 and he didn't have to do these things. I felt like we became men quickly.
“People sometimes ask me, ‘how do you feel about being an Indian and being asked by the government to leave your home and fight for an army that took so much from you and your people? I think, I had a sense of duty to this land and not necessarily to the government I feel it is a right of all Native people to defend their homeland. Aren’t we the indigenous people of this land? Are we not the chosen stewards of Turtle Island? What better way to go in to serve and protect,” he said.
“These were the things I remember 43 years ago that I did – hopefully it made me a better person. Today I respect the military, I respect the elders, I respect the flag and I respect everything there is about this land. I’d like to think that I made a difference during my tour of duty. I tried to be the best soldier I could be, I tried to be as respectful as I could, because I knew I had to answer to my ancestors.
“A lot of people say, ‘you went over there, you protected our country and you’re a hero.’ I say, ‘No, the heroes are on the black granite wall in Washington D.C., Those were the guys that are the heroes and that you should give praise to.”
Today, Owen gives back to his Native community in countless ways. He is a member of the Virginia Indian Tribal Drum Group which traveled to England to perform in 2006; He speaks at several schools, universities churches and veterans organizations in Virginia about his experiences and volunteers for several veterans’ organizations that include the Richmond VA Hospital and the Virginia War Memorial. He also has an extensive 25-year history as a Pow-Wow organizer and is working with politicians in the Commonwealth to place a statue in Capitol Square in Richmond, Virginia.