Society Members visit Montana

1 month ago

As the Society approached the Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (TUS100), we viewed the Centennial as an opportunity to unite the country around love of country by reuniting America with its veterans. During this past Labor Day Weekend, Tomb Guards and guests were reunited with the Crow Nation. Led by Society President Lonny LeGrand (1981-83) and past President Gavin McIlvenna (1997-98) we rendered honors to Chief Plenty Coup. And in doing so we were honored.

The beauty of this landscape was eclipsed by the warmth of the reception we received from the Crow people. Reunited with the Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard that stood with us in Arlington last November, we were led into new relationships and experiences that will last a lifetime.

“Through a great man, who was their Chief and an icon at the burial of the Unknown Soldier of World War I, we, who were so fortunate to attend this Day of Honor, found our way into the hearts of Chief Plenty Coups people. And they into ours. As Chief Plenty Coups entered into his sacred bond with the United States so many years ago, with words and deeds, so too did we reach back to his people and renewed that bond. I look forward to next year when I can once again honor this great man and be among my brother Crow.” - Richard Azzaro (1963-65)

“When we arrived at the Billings airport, and in a very organic way, we met a group of Veterans who are part of the WYOWest organization. This organization sets up outdoor experiences with Veterans and their families. They were hosting their first Gold Star family event and were meeting people at the airport. In conversation, they mentioned that they would love to speak with the current president of Gold Star Mothers, Sarah Witledge-Taylor. Wow! Because Sarah was with us in France, I was able to get her connected to WyoWest.” - Amy McIlvenna, Bereavement Director, CPT (Ret), RN

12 Society Members from Oregon, Montana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and Virginia gathered in Billings, Montana on September 2-5, 2022. On September 3 we started the day with a great breakfast at Stella’s, an iconic restaurant in town and very close to the hotel. We walked off breakfast at the local farmers market, seeing many of the local agricultural products the region has to offer. We then headed to the Chief Plenty Coups State Park in Pryor, MT while enjoying the clear skies and rising temperatures.

“I am a new associate member, and this was my first time with the Society doing an Honor Ceremony. I feel deeply honored to have participated and I felt very welcome with the group. When some of the group visited the Battlefield, they found a headstone marked "Unknown". This was a sad reminder that there are probably more headstones like this, both native and Calvary. It brings home the meaning of our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I first visited the Tomb in 1975 when I was in the Army. A friend and I wanted to be the first women to be Tomb Guards. After getting back to Ft. Lee we practiced the steps in our barrack. At that time women were not Tomb Guards, sadly we gave up our dream. Even though I could not be a Tomb Guard I am still deeply attuned to it. I visit whenever I am in DC, which is quite often as my son lives in Fairfax, VA and works in DC. I hope to be able to participate in more things with the Society.” - Deb Strickland, American Legion Post 47 Commander, Hamilton, MT

Our journey continued as soon as we opened our car doors. Greeted by members of the CPC Honor Guard, we were quickly introduced to members of the tribe and escorted through their museum and then into Chief Plenty Coups home by CPC Honor Guard member Jerome “Oly” Hugs Jr. (USMC) who provided insightful knowledge of the Chief and his life.


Prior to our trip, we had been given permission to hold a simple ceremony honoring Chief Plenty Coups, which is rarely granted because of Crow tradition forbidding entry to his grave site. Seamlessly we were escorted to by the CPC Honor Guard near the grave site and the ceremony started with Vincent GoesAhead (US Army, Vietnam) lighting a smudge stick of sage, offering purification and blessings to all in attendance.

Society President, Lonny LeGrand (1981-83) and Co-Founder Richard Azzaro (1963-65) joined Chief Plenty Coups Flag Bearer Elsworth GoesAhead (USMC) as we paid our respects to Chief Plenty Coups by laying the Society’s Never Forget Bouquet of white roses on his grave. Each in attendance then placed a single long stemmed white rose upon his grave. Our gesture was deeply appreciated by the Tribal Elders.

“What a memorable experience this was for me, and for the Society. Highly anticipated indeed and we were able to have 6 Tomb Guards from many different eras in attendance. We received a warm welcome from the moment we arrived and were treated with honor. We received a special tour of the museum, the Park and the personal home of CPC. Our connection to CPC and growing relationship with the CPCHG made this ceremony even more important. It was great to be honored and recognized guests as part of their ceremony. It meant alot to be a part of gift giving to the people of the Crow community which showed even more our personal connection to the Crow Nation.“ - SHGTUS President Lonny LeGrand Jr. (1981-83)

Then in accord with ancient custom we, as honored guests, were invited to follow the CPC Honor Guard as they led their tribe into the 27th Day of Honor ceremony. This is the annual celebration of the life and impact that Chief Plenty Coups had on his nation and ours. Society President LeGrand (1981-83) carried the Centennial Flag that was used by the CPC Honor Guard in November 2021 and was joined by Co-Founders Richard Azzaro (1963-65) and Gavin McIlvenna (1997-98), John Ranum (1960), Paul Basso (2000-04, 2015-17), and Shane Vincent (2010-12) as they walked behind the CPC Honor Guard, leading the dancers.

In this case, “following” meant that we entered dancing to the beat and rhythm of the drum and Crow singers. It was full sun, 103 degrees but we did not falter, and we felt the pulse of the tribe as we mimicked the CPC Honor Guards steps as they acted out their ancient steps to the rhythm and cries of the tribal drum. Their moves were as ancient and as powerful as the mountains that dominated the skyline and so important to these people of the Raven.

The ceremony continued with native dancing, drums and singing. Throughout we talked with our hosts: we learned about their history, their customs and began the bond that will last a lifetime.

“It was an honor to speak to the Crow people during the 2021 Day of Honor and get to know the veterans and members of the Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard before they went to Washington DC for the Centennial. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the tribe, and it was during that Day of Honor that I felt others in the Society would enjoy the experience in 2022. I hope that more of the Society makes the trip in years to come and enjoy the bond between warriors and our history as Tomb Guards.” - Past President Gavin McIlvenna (1997-98)

This year’s Day of Honor was focused on the history and roots of the Crow people. The community comes together to dance and honor their traditions, feed the tribe and guests; and recognize important milestones in a tribal member’s journey. Bereavement Director Amy McIlvenna and Assistant Quartermaster Dave Hathaway coordinated for a traditional give away from the Society to the Crow community.

“During the planning process for the trip to Montana. I suggested that we host a giveaway at The Day of Honor. Dave came through, as always, with 100 smudge sticks, 3 books about The Tomb and we purchased a beautiful Pendleton blanket named “Warriors Circle of Honor”. Traditionally items are laid on a blanket to be “given away” to the tribe, to give thanks for the blessings in your life. It was a great way to make a connection to the members of the Crow community.” - Amy McIlvenna, Bereavement Director, CPT (Ret), RN
Guided by Elsworth GoesAhead (USMC) four gifts were presented to the community. We gave traditional gifts of Tobacco, Sweet Sage sticks, a Pendleton blanket; and in keeping with the educational mission of the Society, the books “21 Steps”, “The Unknown Soldier’s Journey Home” and “The Unknowns” were also presented. The blanket, “Warriors Circle of Honor” was created by Cheyenne/Arapaho artist and Vietnam Veteran Harvey Pratt. A percentage of the profit from this blanket goes towards the education fund at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and will be on display at the Chief Plenty Coups Museum.

For more information on the blanket visit: https://www.pendleton-usa.com/product/warriors-circle-of-honor-blanket

CPC Honor Guard member Jerome “Oly” Hugs Jr. (USMC) had a young cousin making his first dance in front of the tribe, and he asked the Tomb Guards to join the other male Crow veterans in dancing behind him.

Members of The Society were asked to participate in the “Grand Entry” as well as a young warrior's first dance in front of the tribal community. It was an honor for these men to participate and I feel it was an overwhelming connection for them as well.” - Amy McIlvenna, Bereavement Director, CPT (Ret), RN

Joyce Ranum, wife of John Ranum (1960), created two special oil paintings for the occasion. The first painting depicted the CPC Honor Guard in line as they waited to pay their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on November 9, 2021. The second depicts the CPC Honor Guard praying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, looking at them from behind. These two paintings were presented to the tribe and will be displayed in the Chief Plenty Coups Visitor Center.

The Day of Honor ended with us joining in dance competitions and the retiring of the colors. This land of the Crow is beautiful and moving beyond description, as were the courtesies extended to us throughout our day.
“I want to start off by thanking the Society of Honor Guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Such an Honor just to know these guys, and the service they performed for our country, let alone to watch them mix Cultures, Respect, and Traditions with the Crow Tribal Honor Guard. To remember Chief Plenty Coups on his Homeland while sharing their Culture, Food, and Gifts as the Crow Tribes Honor Guard continue to connect to the Tomb Guard Society. I am honored and humbled to have been a part of this day!” - Barry A. Beach

Special thanks to Linsey Strickland and the group for sharing photos of the day’s events.

The Commemorative Committee coordinates with organizations that have ties to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and/or work to honor the TUS and its higher meaning to never forget service and sacrifice. The participation in the Day of Honor by the Society is just one example of the work the committee is doing.

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