Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


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Raphael Wahwassuck Sr., a chief in the true sense of the word, grew up on the Potawatomi reservation and learned a multitude of values that carried him through the trials of life.

Loyalty to family, traditions, religion, and the culture of the tribe constitute a short list of those values. Wahwassuck needed all the help he could get to survive the chosen profession he decided to pursue.

In 1952, Wahwassuck (Shop ko uk) joined the United States Army and the next 22 1/2 years were a true adventure.

Wahwassuck served two full tours in Vietnam during the worst fighting of the war at places like Xaun-Loc, Saigon, Hue, Perfume Valley and the Ashau Valley.

He called it a "horrible time" in which there were heavy losses. He saw many Americans die, and saw the dead enemy "stacked up like cords of wood."

Some of the battles, like those in the cities of Hue and Saigon, were fought from house to house, street to street, and the North Vietnamese killed thousands of civilians there.

After some battles, his unit would put the dead alongside the road so their people could get them and give them a proper burial.

The next day, the bodies were gone.

But for some reason, after the battle of Ashau Valley, the Vietcong didn't pick up the bodies, and all that was left a few days later was some skin and the bones.

During this short time, the bugs had eaten all the flesh off the bodies.

"It was bad. I felt bad about it, but I told the local villagers where they could find them, but the kids just laughed because the dead were North Vietnamese."

Vietnam was a bad time for him and all the soldiers who went there, but there were good memories, too. His unit, composed of Mexicans, blacks, a Hawaiian, a Chinese, German, French, and an Indian, all survived the war. He called them "tough, and making a good fighting force."

Another thing he remembered from the war was how he respected the Vietcong.

"They were fighting for their country. They fought hard. They were like we were once, fighting for their land."

During the course of his military career, he rose to the rank of master sergeant, or E-8. He won three Commendation Medals, three Bronze Stars, and the highest medal awarded by the South Vietnamese people, an award similar to a Bronze Star.

Wahwassuck credits his many accomplishments to his wife, Erna, his "sole support."

This strong combination contributed four children to the world, and they made their own marks in society.

Josette, the eldest, runs the Spinal Injuries and Trauma Center in Lee's Summit, Mo. Raphael, Jr. is an electronic engineer. The youngest daughter, Ingrid, works for the Internal Revenue Service in Salt Lake City.

Bridget Twila Wahwassuck-Quinn, the third eldest in the family, is a major in the U.S. Army. While she was in high school, Bridget was the number one student in the entire state of Missouri in 1980 and a Presidential Scholar. She went on to graduate from West Point and today teaches systematic engineering at the military academy.

Wahwassuck's many accomplishments are traceable to his long military career, but he has contributed equally through his children and his dedication to maintaining the culture of his tribe.

It is no wonder that today, Wahwassuck is one of the respected tribal elders who can look back and say he did everything possible to make the world a better place.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal Thursday, October 5, 1995.
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