The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

     The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren thanks Navajo Vietnam veterans, saying ‘without you, I wouldn’t be here,’ now I’m here for you

SHIPROCK, N.M. – About 400 families, veterans, and gourd dancers gathered in Shiprock to celebrate and “welcome home” Navajo veterans of the Vietnam War.

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren greeted the veterans, saying they would not be forgotten. Joining him on the stage was Southern Ute Tribal chairman Melvin J. Baker from Ignacio, Colo., and Jicarilla Apache Nation President Edward Velarde of Dulce, N.M, and Sweetwater Veterans Commander Howard Yazzie.

The event was sponsored by the Northern Agency Veterans’ Organization to commemorate National Vietnam War Veterans Day – celebrated since March 29, 2017.

Five years earlier, on March 29, 2012, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation to create Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day.

Dozens of horsemen and horsewomen rode north on U.S. Highway 491 to the event bearing flags.

President Nygren explained in Navajo how his father, whom he never met, was a child among the South Vietnamese refugees who fled their country and the war, bound for the United States.

“Personally, I am very, very thankful for all the Vietnam veterans for standing up against communism, helping the South Vietnamese people, helping the people who eventually somehow, someway, refugees, came from Vietnam to the Navajo Nation,” he said.

He told the Vietnam veterans that without them, the history of the Navajo Nation would be quite different.

“Without you helping those people fight communism, I would not be here today, standing before you, advocating, fighting for you to make sure that your voices are heard,” he said. “Over the next forty-five months, I will do what it takes to make sure veterans, our Vietnam veterans, their voices are heard.”

The President said the first step taken by his administration was to appoint two people “who would champion and advocate for veterans. “

Bobbie Ann Baldwin, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was appointed as the new Navajo Nation Veterans Administration director. Veterans visiting the president’s office could meet with his executive staff assistant for veteran affairs, Olin Kieyoomia, who is a U.S. Army veteran.

Ms. Baldwin was recommended for the position by Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council, and by that recommendation, President Nygren appointed her. 

“I kept my promise to make sure that you have a voice inside the Office of the Navajo Nation President,” he said. “From there they work with our legislators, our council delegates, to make sure your voices are heard.”

The President said he was very honored to have Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Baker and Jicarilla Apache Nation President Velarde join him to welcome Navajo veterans.

“Those are our neighboring leaders. They care about our veterans, regardless of where they come from,” he said. “So today’s event is a good day to honor Vietnam veterans and our veterans across the Navajo Nation.”

The President also recognized Navajo Nation Council Delegates Eugenia Charles-Newton and Rickie Nez as “people who show up to let you know they care about you.”

The President said the Vietnam War was a very tough war. About 8.7 million U.S. servicemen and servicewomen served from 1965 to 1973. Of those, 1.8 million were drafted but 75% of the Marines, soldiers and sailors were volunteers.

“They fought for this country so I want to say thank you to all the veterans,” he said. “You volunteered and fought for this country. Ahe’hee!”

Wearing his jungle green camo uniform, keynote speaker and Vietnam Veteran Clyde Benally, a member of the Southeast Utah Veterans Organization of Utah, stepped to the podium with the help of a crutch because his foot was in a cast.

He told how in 1968, three weeks from graduating from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., he received his draft notice.

“The notice made me start feeling sick to my stomach because I was destined to go to Vietnam now,” he said. “I did not send out my graduation invitations. They’re still in my garage sitting around there someplace today.”

He said graduation was not fun for him at all. There was no celebration or party for him. He was already packed so he just left for home.

In September 1968, he left home for induction in Salt Lake City, was flown to Oakland, Calif., and then travel by bus with other trainees to Fort Ord, Calif., for basic training.

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