ESCANABA, Mich. (WJMN) – Native Americans from the Upper Peninsula played crucial roles in wartime history, from United States soil to overseas; one of those Native Americans who served his country is Larry Godfrey.
Godfrey was born and raised in Escanaba and a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. When Godfrey was 19 years old, he joined the U.S. Army, serving two tours in Vietnam from 1969 to 1972.
“In the military, I was a mechanic which included vehicles, armor. The first year I was in Vietnam I was in the Fourth Infantry Division, and mechanic on the tanks and APCs. Second year there I was in transportations, so we worked on vehicles and stuff,” Godfrey said.
Vietnam had a profound impact on Godfrey and his fellow servicemen and women, altering them in ways that they could never have imagined.
“Being a young 19-year-old, by the time [I was] six months in, you could see that these young men and women age considerably: in the way they look, in the way they act, and always on alert,” recalled Godfrey. “Like I say, when you come back it’s a hard one. Even the veterans even today that end up in war zones end up coming back on alert all the time. It takes a while to adjust to civilian life; about three years for me after I got back to where things seemed to settle down a little more. Some of the things that come back with you affect how you behave.”
When Godfrey returned home to the U.S. after serving in Vietnam, he says the intergenerational trauma as a Native American played a role in his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the war.
“With age, you get a chance to look back and learning the different things from PTSD and it all kind of tied together, to where for me anyway, where my life went, the way it went. It was an uphill battle for a long time. Like I said, the prejudice was there when I was younger. There was always a chip on my shoulder because of it, so there were sometimes that were hard. Like I said, joining the military was one of the best things for me at the time. And of course, like I said, I’m glad I made it through. Coming back, we had some issues to take care of. It’s worked out. Life’s been pretty good so far.”
Godfrey and his wife created an exhibit at the U.P. Military Museum in Escanaba that showcases war contributions from Native Americans in the U.P.
“The Native Americans, per capita, have more people joining the military than any other nationality. Part of it is that warrior in them, the other part, like one part (of the exhibit) it says ‘Because this is our land’ is why they fought in the military. From the Civil War but even before the Civil War, all the way through to present day, you have Native Americans in the military, doing their part to keep everybody free. And like I said, on part of the wall that says, ‘Because this is our land, we’re part of this land.’ There’s another part that shows children, that’s the other reason that people join the military, so their kids can be free,” said Godfrey.
You can check out the Native American exhibit at the U.P. Military Museum, located at 1001 N. Lincoln Rd. The museum is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is free to the public, but donations are welcome.