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A Veterans Day Tribute: Warriors and Wannabes

Warrior—the word is thrown around these days as much the word “hero.” Young men have always sought glory on the field of battle, since the first caveman picked up a stick, another a rock, and they went at it.

Today the word “warrior” is emblazoned on T-shirts, hats, jackets and car windows like it’s another brand of Air Jordans or Timberlands. It’s become so commonplace that even little kids are called warriors, although they have little, if any, idea of what it truly means. On Shinnecock, too, “warrior” gets thrown around like a football. But a bunch of guys sitting around telling each other how tough they are does not a warrior make.

So what is a warrior, and what does it entail to be one? What does a warrior do and how does one go about attaining the title honestly? There are as many answers as there are countries, but for the most part there seems to be a general agreement of the essence of its meaning.

At a Veterans Day ceremony held recently at the flagpole on the Shinnecock Reservation, veteran and elder Donald Williams stated how the men who joined the armed services joined up not to kill people but to prevent future wars. He said the term “Armed Services” is self-explanatory: to serve a higher cause than yourself and protect those who cannot protect themselves.

I joined the Navy at 17, thinking there was glory and excitement to be had. I can tell you that the first time I saw a 500-pound bomb go off, dropped from a roaring F-14 Tomcat, the whole glory thing went out the window and excitement came in an “Oh S***!” way.

The Japanese warrior code of Bushido has seven virtues: integrity, bravery, courage, compassion, honor, loyalty and honesty. The samurai who abided by this code were so disciplined and committed to these virtues that failure to maintain them would be perceived as a source of shame and they would commit seppuku, usually by cutting their stomach open and having their “second” decapitate them before the pain got to be too much. Some would request not to have the second so the pain of dying would erase the shame of failure. It was usually a very ceremonious occasion, and often the losing side of a battle would perform it en mass rather than be taken prisoner
or surrender.

Most, if not all, martial arts stress that it is only as a last resort that physical violence is taken up, and even then only to disable the attacker and nullify the threat—although if it comes to striking a fatal blow, that too is done with honor, quickly and without
inflicting suffering.

The Ojibwa in Manitoba, Canada hold an Okiijida (Warrior Society) Ceremony during which the youth pledge to fight—against the negativity in themselves, to protect those who cannot protect themselves (such as the elderly, infirm and infants), and against domestic violence, child abuse, drug abuse, corruption and neglect. They pledge to be kind to themselves above all else, and to those they are pledged to protect; to fight off negative thoughts and deeds and low esteem. They pledge to do the right thing first and foremost because there is where the honor lies.

A good warrior is able to take care of himself because if you can’t do that, then how can you take care of someone else? Kindness to oneself and others is sometimes hard, but to be hard is to be strong.

A warrior makes a pledge to do all of this and honors it to the best of his ability no matter what others might think or say. He or she cannot turn away from this pledge or commitment, even if it means putting themselves in harm’s way. In fact, that pretty much sums up what a warrior is about—putting the safety and welfare of others before your own. Making sure the women, children and elders are safe by defending them with your life.

It used to be a right of passage to enter the armed forces and serve your country and your people, gain experience in the larger world and learn what’s out there in order to return and protect what we have here. These days, maybe not so much, it seems to be more about individual gain rather than the betterment of the whole tribe.

It’s certainly not an easy thing to be a warrior. It takes dedication and fortitude and an overriding sense of what is right. It’s standing watch in the rain and being willing to help and aid when needed without compensation or even acknowledgement. It’s more than a T-shirt or tough talk. It’s a lifestyle. So don’t talk it if you can’t walk it. And know that the real warriors of Shinnecock are always on watch and ready to do what’s necessary to ensure we will make it to the next century as a people.

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