Ogitchedaw share history and honor service members in France

By Anthony Foerster, Chairman of the Ogitchedaw Veterans Board

The Pokagon Band Ogitchedaw travelled to France this June for the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. We visited Potawatomi veteran graves and partook in the honor ceremonies.

World War II was a culmination of evil intentions carried out to their fullest potential. Many nations cried out for liberation from occupation of the Axis powers. We experienced the emotional outpouring of a grateful people who are committed to never forgetting the people who liberated them. All with whom we met understood the honor in the sacrifice of men who left the safety of the United States to serve in horrible conditions against an entrenched enemy.

We visited the grave of PFC Edward Moran Winchester, who is buried in an American cemetery in Epinal, France. Our trip was also impacted by our WWI veterans. We visited the site where one of our warriors was killed in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918. At the time of WWI and WWII, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi did not exist as a tribal entity, so I will reference individuals who served during these periods as members of the Potawatomi Nation. We will find that some of these individuals were claimed primarily by our sister tribes of the Gun Lake Band and/or the Nottawaseppi Huron Band at a later date. Some were eligible for multiple tribal affiliations in the Potawatomi, Odawa, Objibwa
or Oneida nations.

Initially our trip involved an overnight stay in Epinal, France, the final resting place of one of our own: Edward Moran Winchester. He was killed in action on January 25, 1945, during the third bloodiest campaign in U.S. Armed Forces history where 19,276 U.S. military members died. He was less than 3 1/2 months away from VE Day, (Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945). On the day that Edward was killed, he was enduring 14 degree weather and two feet of snow. About 45 minutes from his final resting spot, we visited the exact place he was killed. There are remnants of the bridge still existing. We spent time there reflecting, giving good thoughts to honor his sacrifice. Later that evening we shared a meal with the family that has pledged to visit his grave as one of their own family members. We expressed our appreciation on behalf of the tribe for performing that duty to our warrior by giving some traditional gifts to the family. I also explained to them some of the traditional teachings behind the ceremony that we performed. I let them know that normally this was forbidden, but because they assumed a family role and a tribal duty, we honored them by sharing it with them.

We have some other names for service during WWII. Calvin Whitepigeon, (later claimed by the Huron Potawatomi) and Martin Wesaw (Pokagon Potawatomi) who were participants during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Albert Trevan, with unknown tribal affiliation, served in the US Army Field Artillery in the North African Theatre. He was Roger Williams’ uncle and is buried in a Potter’s Field at Riverside Cemetery in Hamilton, Mich. He was a Prisoner of War, reported MIA October 26, 1944 in Italy. He was held at Stalag 7A in Moosburg, Bavaria. Richard L. Rider served in the mechanized infantry in the US Army. He served in the North African Theatre. He was reported MIA on February 26, 1944, in Italy. He was held at Stalag 7B in Memmingen, Bavaria. He is buried in Florida. Anthony Lewis served in the US Army Air Force with the Ninth Air Force Group during the Ardennes Campaign.

Here are many others who served in WWII:

US Navy

  • Alvia Max Starrett
  • Louis Lee Topash
  • Phillip Maurice Winchester
  • James Lewis
  • Clifford Lee Gwilt
  • Thomas Wesaw, Jr.

US Army Air Corps

  • Dan Topash
  • Phillip Maurice Winchester
  • Harry M Wesaw
  • Mark Alexis

US Marine Corps

  • Robert Topash
  • Joseph Pokagon Stephens

US Army

  • Julius Edward Williams
  • Victor Starrett
  • Lawrence O. Starrett, Sr.
  • Gene Alexis
  • Lorenzo Trevan
  • John Richard Winchester
  • Francis Harold Winchester
  • Harold Thomas Winchester
  • Joseph Rufus Winchester
  • Paul “Bud” Gibson
  • Raymond Morseau, Sr.
  • George W. Morseau
  • Francis Gordon Wesaw
  • Clarence Delbert Wesaw
  • Mitchell Lewis
  • Andrew Sturgeon
  • Robert Cushway
  • Edward Cushway
  • Don Smith
  • Leo Rider
  • John Ride
  • Leonard Henry Church
  • John Willis
  • Michael B. Wilson 

This is not a comprehensive list. This is based on the names given us through the family feathers. There were other names given, but tribal affiliation could not be proven at this time.

Next, we made a trip to where Henry Quigno, who served in WWI, was killed in action during the bloodiest military campaign in U.S. Armed Forces history: the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He was killed on October 4, 1918, just south of Exermont, France. We researched the war documents and were able to identify where his unit started on the morning of October 4, 1918, and where the unit ended up that evening. There is nothing but a field there now. WWI ended on November 11, 1918. He was 5 weeks away from the end of the war. Henry had two other brothers who served during WWI: Peter Quigno, who served in the US Army infantry in Russia and died several months after returning from the war, and James Quigno, who served in the US Navy. Scott Williams and Thomas Wesaw, Sr. also served in the US Army in WWI.

We traveled from the east side of France to the West side. We had a rigorous itinerary with ceremonies and meetings with dignitaries as we learned about the valor of our WWII warriors. We met with a grateful people who have pledged to never forget their liberators. This attitude was best captured in a movie screening that we saw called “A Girl Who Wore Freedom.”

France honors all WWII veterans who fought in France with the Legion of Honor Medal. This makes those men honorary knights of France. There is no higher honor. Everyone in the French military is mandated to salute all men wearing this medal.

We stopped in Rouen. There is a cathedral there built in 1122. One side of it is full of pock marks made from machine gun bullets from WWII. Evidence of medieval life can be felt in the ancient architecture of the buildings and churches. If one looks hard enough, they can find signs of the world wars. It is hard to conceive the way of life while occupied by a foreign nation.

On a final note, the population there is very aware of our history as Native Americans. As much as they love the American liberators, they abhor the history of genocide associated with the United States of America. Because they know our history, they hold Native American liberators in the highest regard. They cannot comprehend why Native Americans would serve in the military of the country that used the same military to carry out genocide and policies of termination. They are intrigued by our culture. They attribute our culture with strength, and they recognize our grandfather teachings akin to the code of chivalry.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this honor. I would be glad to speak with anyone who would like to know more.