Honoring Native Veterans, Honoring Chief Sachem Vernon “Silent Drum“ Lopez

November 09, 2018

By Joan Tavares Avant

“The notable veterans who have died should be genuinely remembered and celebrated. The ones who are blessed enough to be alive and or return home as wounded warriors should be cared for forever. Their spirit was given to uphold this country’s freedom and yours. Those who are walking around may look well, but many are not. There’s a lot this country should do for those past and present.”-- Chief Sachem Vernon “Silent Drum“ Lopez

Honoring Veteran’s Day is heroic. To have a relative as the Chief Sachem Vernon “Silent Drum“ Lopez, spiritual leader of my Tribe is heartwarming. In addition to having him alive at 96 years old, walking, driving, his sitting in my living room and sharing his story as a Mashpee Wampanoag veteran is highly honorable. His hands were moving with emotion, tears in both eyes, as he took off his glasses, before he spoke of his memories. This will be a sensation that I will never forget. I love listening to him speak as chills go through me. His wisdom and knowledge keeps me grounded.

“I was drafted in 1942 at 20 years old. We went to Mississippi for infantry training for six months. Next, we were transferred to Alexandra, Louisiana joining the 214th Military Police Officers Training. In January 1944, we were shipped to Torque, England. We did escort duties for ships coming in. Myself and 95 men and five officers entered the Normandy invasion, also referred to as D-Day. Over the years, I have attended nearly all of our reunions here and across our country meeting with a few of the fellows in our unit. Now, it is assumed that I am the only one still alive from my unit,” Chief Sachem Silent Drum recalls.

With a half grin, he says,

“In 1945, I came home on a furlough knowing that after my furlough I was supposed to go to Burma, so I thought. Surprisingly, I had a physical and enough points to be discharged. Oh boy, I was so happy being back on my land of the Wampanoag and to be with my family and friends. I adjusted very quickly. Going fishing and hunting was a traditional joy.

I stayed in Mashpee for a couple of years. Jobs were sparse. I went to Brockton and landed a job and met a girlfriend named Mary Julia Stanley whom I dated for two years and later married. We had a wonderful 60 years together. She crossed over in 2006.

We have a daughter Marlene (Women with Wisdom), one deceased son, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I am grateful that I was spared my life. We of the Mashpee have supported all wars, even when we were not being supported and were not thought of as citizens within our own land! It is mentioned in Mashpee Tribe on Trial by Jack Campisi. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts paid little attention to Indian affairs.”

Native Americans and Alaska Natives serve in the US Armed Services at a higher rate than any other group. What is discriminating and foul to say the least is that veteran services and benefits fall short than those provided to their non-Native counter parts. There are some organizations who try to provide dignified treatment for all veteran men and women. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) works with federal agencies and the Department of Defense monitoring and keeping accurate information for the welfare of Native veterans and active duty service member. According to The Washington Post, Native American Veterans will be honored with a memorial on the National Mall. Mashpee’ Historical Commission is making great memorial plans for our Wampanoag veterans.

Chief Sachem Silent Drum left us a gift, “I pray to the Great Spirit for my family, Tribal community and friends both Native and non-Native. May the Great Spirit bless everyone as the dawn appears each morning.”

-- Joan Tavares Avant is a Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal leader, historian, and writer living in Mashpee, Massachusetts.