Bruce Williams — A Proud Navajo Veteran
Bruce Williams — Proud Navajo Veteran.Bruce Williams had just returned from the Phoenix area the week prior to our visit. Bruce’s son, Roy, had taken his parents on a 3½ hour drive to attend the 2009 Iwo Jima Commemoration. This two-day event honored a fellow Marine veteran of World War II, Ira Hayes…the American Indian from the Gila River Indian Reservation who helped raise the American flag at Iwo Jima. Bruce was proud to be a part of this 64th Annual event to honor another Native Veteran.
Bruce recalls the day he was tending sheep and a man on a horse summoned him and others. This was their call to duty to serve in the US Army. Bruce made the trip from Leupp, AZ to basic training at Fort Bliss, TX with three friends: Norman, Page and Walter. Following basic training, Bruce was stationed on the Aleutian Islands, as part of the war’s Pacific campaign and then transferred to France, to assist with the European campaign. Returning stateside to New York City, Bruce rode a train cross country, back to El Paso and hitched the remaining 500+ miles home to Arizona. He returned without his friends, all three casualties of the war. His family was not without their loss; during his absence his baby daughter passed away. After his return, the family suffered another loss when their 10 year old son died of an unknown illness.
Bruce is proud of his service and his family. Photographs of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are displayed throughout the house. The photographs and family members represent every branch of service: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Bruce shared the commendations he received for both campaigns and his good conduct awards. Roy shared they are in the process of asking the Army to consider his dad for a purple heart from an unrecorded war injury, taking shrapnel in the face and leg.
Bruce and Emily WilliamsBruce’s son, Roy, was extremely helpful and necessary during the interview. Roy moved back home to help his parents as they are finding it more difficult to get around. Bruce is hard of hearing, and his first language is Navajo, so Roy translated for both his mother and father during our visit. Bruce has a 6th grade education but that didn’t keep him from becoming a teacher later in life. Bruce was involved in the language revitalization project for the reservation and taught elementary through high school aged children their language. He is very pleased that four of his children completed their post graduate degrees and was especially proud to share that not one of his children had ever attended a boarding school; “they stayed with us.” This was particularly interesting given that most of Bruce’s post military service was working in the Boarding School for nearly 30 years until his retirement in 1978.
A painting in the living room is carefully hung among feathers, a hand drum and a woven ribbon declaring “God Bless Our Home”. The painting depicts a horse and rider looking towards a mesa, Black Mesa to be specific, where Bruce and Emily were raised on opposite ends of the mesa. They’ve known each other since Emily was five and they married when she was only 15 or 16. Emily is now 82 and Bruce’s age is a little harder to verify, but based on the birth date the Army calculated, he is 89.
Bruce and Emily were thankful for the box full of food items provided to them. Roy shared that they are not eligible for much assistance with his retirement, but every little bit helps.