50 Years Ago: Names of 45 who died in Vietnam listed

LOS ANGELES

As the Navajo Nation prepared for the Memorial Day holiday in 1969, the Navajo Times presented its readers with the names of 45 members of the tribe who had died so far serving in the Vietnam War. And the actual number probably was even higher as the names that the Times printed came from the tribe that got them from the military.

These names were of men who either listed their hometowns on the reservation or gave some indication in their records that they were members of the tribe. Urban Navajos who did not mention their enrollment in the tribe were not among those on the list. Here are the ones on the list: Johnnie Antonio Jr., Jerry D. Abeita, Frank D. Begay, Frankie Begaye, Felix D. Begaye, Harold Begody, Michael H. Bia, Larry Billie, Alvin Chester, Jerry Claw, Peter Yazzie Claw, Benny Dale, Jerry Daw, Tony Dedman; and Warren Dempsey, Daniel Dee Denipah, Harvey Dodge, Wilfred Draper, Dan Etsitty, James Etsitty, Van Etsitty, Gene Hawthorne, Leonard Hickson, Thomas Hayes, Donald Hicks, Benny L Huskon, Archie H. Iyua Jr., Richard J. Jackson, Billie James Jr.; and Billie M. Knight Jr., Calvin D. Large, Ned Lee, Bobbie J. Martinez, Harry M. Mather, Virgil J. Roberts, Patrick Skeet, Glen Taylor, Huskie Begay Ten, Edward Teller, Edward Tyler, Juan Wilson, Jones L. Yazzie, Leonard L. Yazzie, and Raymond Yazzie.

By 1974, when the war was over, more than 100 Navajo men would have their names on that list.

In news that week, the Navajo Times reported that all 10 of the children who were injured when their school bus hit a power plant smokestack in Fort Defiance were recovering. Most received broken bones in the crash. One had a broken collarbone, another had a broken jaw. Others had broken arms and legs. George Burns, superintendent of the school system, said the district was “fortunate that the injuries were not worse.” The accident occurred on the morning run as the driver was going on the Sawmill route to bring the students to school. According to the accident report, he failed to make a curve and plowed into the smokestack. The bus had 46 students, from kindergarten through high school, on the bus.

Police arrived within five minutes and school officials said that the students had all been examined within 15 minutes. Fort Defiance Hospital was located nearby and enacted its “disaster plan,” which was followed to the letter. Burns later praised the hospital for its speedy actions. Police were still trying to determine the cause of the accident as this issue of the Times went to press. The driver claimed his brakes failed but a preliminary examination indicated the brakes were working as normal.

There was the possibility the driver just failed to negotiate the curve properly and lost control of the bus. The bus was totally destroyed but thankfully the bus hit the smokestack straight on. If it had gone just a few feet to the right and had missed the smokestack, it would have gone into a deep canyon and the injuries would have been a great deal more severe. None of the children were thrown out of the bus.

The Navajo Times learned just after it had gone to press the name of yet another Navajo soldier who died in the war. Leonard M. HIckson, 23, was killed in action on May 18. He was from Fort Defiance. The military said he was among 50 soldiers who died that day on Hamburger Hill. He was the eldest of a set of triplets born to Mr. and Mrs. Albert Hickson Sr.

And finally, the board of regents for Navajo Community College announced this week that they have chosen Ned Hatathli as the new college president. In making the announcement, board members said they wanted to carry out the goal of having a Navajo in charge of education at the college. He replaces Bob Roessel, who had been president of the college since it opened last summer. Hatathli was the deputy director and Roessel will now go into that position.

Hatathli served for seven years as director of the tribe’s Resources Division and before that he was a member of the Navajo Tribal Council, representing Coal Mine Mesa. Under his leadership, the college would prosper, getting grants to expand curriculum and buildings. He served as president of the college until 1972 when his family reported that he had died tragically in an accident when he shot himself while cleaning his rifle.


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About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.