RAPID CITY (AP) – Richard Brown walked around wafting sage as his friends and family sang “A Song for Kit Fox Society” in honor of Richard’s late father Garfield.
Garfield Brown is the first Oglala Lakota code talker honored by the Veteran’s Honor Banner Project in downtown Rapid City. His banner hangs on the light post outside of Firehouse Mercantile in the 600 block of West Main Street.
“It’s just a great honor and humbling experience to be among all the other veterans whose pictures are up here,” Richard said. “I wish he got a lot of these honors before he passed away, but he wasn’t there for honors, for recognition – he was there for our freedom and our right to live.”
Garfield Brown was a code talker in World War II and served in the 18th Regiment of the First Infantry, the Rapid City Journal reported.
A code talker is the name given to Indigenous people who used their tribal language to send communications on the battlefield during World War II, according to the National World War II Museum. There were at least 14 Native nations represented as code talkers.
Richard said it took the code talkers 30 seconds to a minute to translate the code and get a response to enemy attack.
Garfield joined the military when he was 18 years old and was 21 by the time it was over. Richard said he realized his father, and many other young people, experienced tragedy during the war.
He said his father was at Omaha Beach in Normandy, battles in Eastern Europe, Belgium and at the Battle of the Bulge.
“His experiences with the horror of war and experiencing all that is extremely just wow,” Richard said. “That was my dad.”
But Garfield never really spoke about the war. Richard said he learned about his father’s involvement in the war when he was in high school, but didn’t really process that information until he was older.
He said growing up, his dad was just his dad. He was an honorable, humble man that was work-oriented and strict at times. Garfield emphasized education and, along with his wife, taught his son about work ethic, responsibility and kindness.
Richard said he’s done much research following his father’s death and even found him in the book “Proud Americans of World War II” by Malcolm Marshall, which focuses on the 32nd Field Artillery Battalion in action.
Richard said he was going to attend the anniversary ceremony at Omaha Beach where his father was going to be honored, but it got rescheduled to 2021 due to COVID-19.
He said he donated all of his father’s military items to the Crazy Horse Memorial Museum, including a Nazi flag he captured and brought back.
“Finally, his story is being told as a Lakota and a code talker and an American,” Richard said.
As Garfield’s banner was raised, Richard’s family and friends sang one of the first songs composed for Lakota veterans. One of the lyrics translates to “When the people get together, if you can, remember me.”
This is the fourth year of the Veteran’s Honor Banner Project and has expanded from 18 banners to 180, chairman Bill Casper said. They honor veterans from across the country.
The project has banners from the Civil War through current conflict. They will hang on St. Joseph and Main streets from East to West Boulevard, as well as down Canyon Lake drive.
“We can accommodate as many as we can get light poles from the city,” Casper said. “I told Mayor (Steve) Allender when we started this I wanted to hang a banner up on every light pole in town. He kind of laughs at that, and I was being facetious, but at the same time I’d like to see 300-400 of them up.”
He said there are already six new banners sponsored for next year. The banners will remain on light poles for two months.