Written Saturday, Nov. 26

This morning I attended the funeral of a young Marine from Apache, Oklahoma, killed in combat in Iraq. His name was Josh Ware. You may have seen him along with 5 or 6 other marines on the cover of Time magazine during the battle of Fallujah. He was killed by hostile small arms fire last week during operation Steel Curtain. Josh was of Kiowa and Comanche descent, and registered with the Kiowa tribe. He was 20 years old.

I walked down to the Comanche Tribal Center in Apache for the funeral. A local Indian man picked me up and gave me a ride. We were waved through the security cordon around the center. Rumor had it that the group from Kansas (God Hates Fags) would be coming to protest. The tribal center and the land on

that side of the road is Comanche land; the land south of the road is "trust" land (I am not sure what that means), leased to an oil company. Since there was no public land nearby, there was not a place that anyone had a right to use for protest. Police from the town of Apache, Comanche Tribal Police, Bureau of Indian Affairs officers, and the Oklahoma Highway patrol all were present, as was a contingent of "biker" veterans who have used the sound of their Harley's to drown out those protesting at other soldiers funerals.

The family had connections with a local Indian Methodist Church, so I simply sat in the crowd as a mourner. Folding chairs had been set up for 600 on the gymnasium floor. The number of empty chairs probably was about a match for the number of people in the back on bleachers. Most of the crowd were Native American including the local Indian Veterans groups in their outfits (sort of decorated short capes or shawls), and the Kiowa Warrior Society. A Marine honor guard was there, from the Marine Reserve Unit in Oklahoma City, and a contingent from the Oklahoma VFW. One long side of the court formed the front of the room. In the center along the wall hung three blankets in a row. In front was a large picture of Josh, probably the one from boot camp. The casket, closed and draped in an American flag, was to the west of the picture. On the far west end of the wall the Native American Marine Corps Veterans had placed a large (maybe 6'x8') painting on a table. In the foreground of the painting was the famous flag raising scene from Iwo Jima; in the background were fainter figures of Indian warriors looking on. To the east of the casket were flower arrangements.

The service started with singing. I am not sure of the language, but think it was Comanche church songs (hymns in the Comanche language). There were many of these throughout the service, including some in Kiowa. There also were some songs by the women's choir from Josh's church--some Indian Church Songs, some Country-Gospel style in English. From the start of the service to the placing of the casket in the hearse, the ceremony lasted 3 hours. Three ministers spoke (not uncommon around here; they were all pentecostalish Methodists I think), some people spoke in remembrance, and we all stood while an Indian veteran read the names and dates of death for all the Kiowa and Comanche who had died in defense of the United States--from June 6, 1944 through Korea and Vietnam. Josh was the first since Vietnam. (19 Native Americans have died in Iraq.) Midway though the service the man who read the list had gone outside, then returned to announce that protesters had shown up, but had been shown to the Caddo County line. The audience applauded. Nearly all the 600 present filed by the family to shake hands with them, and with the Marines present.

Lots of folks went to the burial (about 30 miles away), then returned to the Comanche Community Center in Apache for a meal supplied by the Indian Methodist Church.

The family grieved, especially Josh's mother, but the overall sense of the crowd, I think, was one of solemn respect for a fallen warrior. His name will be said and remembered by the Kiowa Tribe, and by the Indian Veteran groups from now on as one of their own, fallen in battle.

I am thankful for Josh, and for all like him who put themselves in harm's way on my behalf.