A Wake for an Indian Warrior
There’s nothing more ironic or contradictory than life itself.
-Robert De Niro
We never had the privilege of meeting Corporal Brett Lundstrom. There is great sadness in that fact.
The way we see it, Brett Lundstrom represented all that is good, decent, wholesome, honorable and courageous about America.
His roots run deep into America soil. The descendant of Native American nobility, Brett did not live and grow up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. His Mother, Doyla, did.
Doyla left the reservation when she was a teenager. In 1982, Doyla married and her husband, Ed Lundstrom, entered the Marine Corps. For the next 20 years the Lundstroms lived the life of a Marine family.
When Doyla tells the story of her two boys, Brett and his younger brother, Ed, Jr, she says with affection:
"They both grew up Marine brats. We had them both while in college at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, SD. Brett was 2 years old and Eddy was 1 year old when their father went active duty in October 1985."
"They were fortunate to have lived all over the United States while we moved around with their father during his transfers to different Marine bases."
"They were fortunate that they got to go home to my reservation every chance we got to see my family. They experienced life on the "res" and then there was their other life, in the Marine Corps. Going home to see family always made them realize how fortunate they were to have the life they had."
Like his dad, Brett Lundstrom became a Marine. His 6 foot 2 inch frame must have looked striking when it was adorned with the red, white and blue dress uniform of the Marine Corps. When he entered a room people took notice of his stature and the beautiful, welcoming smile that spoke to his goodness.
Like many before him from the Sioux Nation, he served his county. His destinations were Afghanistan and Iraq.
He did not complain. He was not afraid. He just wanted to use his service to America to make a better life for himself.
That was his dream, his hope and his prayer.
At 22, in a town that few in America could find on a map, in a war that consumes so much of our conversation, energy and national treasure, Corporal Brett Lundstrom gave his life for America and the dream of a free and democratic Iraq.
We never met this Indian Warrior, but we honestly believe that we know him thanks to a dear friend who sent us a Power Point presentation that recorded his heroic service and untimely death.
It was a stunning experience to see the magnificent pictures taken by Todd Heisler and copyrighted by the Rocky Mountain News. They are nothing short of breathtaking.
The words in the presentation adapted from the article about Corporal Lundstrom’s 42 hour funeral service were first published by Jim Sheeler in the Rocky Mountain News. They are appropriately elegant, inspirational and oh, so poignant.
We could not get the images our of our hearts and minds, and so we decided to spend the last five days incorporating the Power Point presentation into a segment for the Windsor Park Theater.
We view this as a companion piece to our episode entitled Tribute which spoke to the heroic deeds of those brave men from Northeaster Pennsylvania who preceded Corporal Lundstrom to the River Styx.
The 42 hour funeral of Corporal Lundstrom takes us on a journey where most have never been, either physically, spiritually or emotionally. It gives us a glimpse, a feeling for the beauty of a culture now confined to reservations. But it also allows us to share in the ritual of death that is nothing short of beautiful.
The young man is greeted by a wagon pulled by two horses and the tribal customs become entwined with the military procedures. He goes back to a place he called home, this time is a brown cherry wood casket draped with his flag. He rests away from the glaring lights under a teepee where he will be in the presence of his ancestors who are waiting for him in a place beyond the pain.
The marine guard never leaves his side as relatives and friends pay their respects – a scene that has played out in more than 25-hundred towns all over the country in funeral homes and churches since March 2003. It really doesn’t matter if you approve or disapprove of the war in Iraq at this point. There is a feeling of profound sorrow and helplessness as you see the face of this young warrior lightly holding an eagle feather and dressed in his red, white and blue uniform…the coming together of past and present.
The pain on the faces of his family and friends is almost too much to bear, but then you stop and realize that you are watching this and will go on to do something else. They are living with it and it has left a hole in their heart that will always be there. They may have asked why his death happened, but they must now contend with the reality that it did, period.
The beauty and dignity of Lundstrom’s people make us wonder whatever happened to us that we lost our way and forgot that these people were here before all of us, have endured unspeakable treatment, were stripped of their land and possessions and yet, so many have gone to the aid of the government that did those things. It lets one experience their love of country and their giving spirit, especially as you see the faces of the Native American veterans who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
This provokes a yearning to know more about a people with such a capacity for forgiveness and reciprocity.
The anguish of the funeral ritual is only intensified by the haunting music provided by Greg O’Brien and Carole Lynn Campbell that accompanies the images and the pictures take you back to that dreadful day when our world took a turn for the worse. All the feelings of sadness and regret for what happened since 9/11 come tumbling together and overwhelm the viewer.
Corporal Brett Lundstrom died for a cause he believed in, but in death he also showed us the magnificent spirit of his people and the rituals that are so instructive and inspirational.
As we participated in A Wake for an Indian Warrior, we felt a profound sense of loss for a person we had never met, but a person whose life and death taught us what really matters.
If permission is granted to us, we will incorporate Corporal Lundstrom’s story into the documentary we are producing for our annual screening in Shanksville, PA, in September.
Di Nero was so right. There’s nothing more ironic or contradictory than life itself.
America needs men like Corporal Brett Lundstrom, and the great irony and contradiction is that he and the people who perished on September 11, 2001, were not able to live out their dreams.
At the conclusion of the video about the Native American marine, Brett Lundstrom, there is a profound feeling of loss – certainly for the young man who died serving his country, but also a feeling a loss for the country itself because someone that committed and noble is not here anymore.
We must never forget this brave Native American Warrior, Corporal Brett Lundstrom.
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