The Joplin Globe
Veterans Day has passed, and so has a great American soldier and leader: Chief Leaford Bearskin.
The former U.S. Air Force pilot and civilian government service retiree died on Nov. 9 at the age of 91. The much-decorated pilot served his country well. He also served his community and his Wyandotte tribe, leading it as chief since 1983. On Thursday he was buried with full Native American rites.
Bearskin’s obituary reads like a page out of history. His colorful life took him on dangerous air missions. He was assigned to the 90th Bombardment Group where he flew a B-24, one of the heavy bombers of World War II. His squadron later became known as the “Jolly Rogers” group.
Long after he returned to his home in Wyandotte, Okla., Bearskin frequently wrote guest columns for The Joplin Globe. He wrote about nature, about his tribe, and about the stories passed from one generation to another.
One of his columns, written in 1995, explained the role American Indians served when their country went to war. We would like to share this excerpt:
“An enemy from across the big water trespassed against our good friends and our great country. Once again the great white father spoke and said, ‘We need warriors to fight for our good friends and our great country,’ and once again my people quit being farmers, quit being school teachers, quit being storekeepers, quit being ministers, and quit being statesmen.
“They took up the white man’s war paint and tomahawk. I myself fought our enemy over the great waters of the Pacific. I fought with the white man’s tools — airplanes, bombs and machine guns. Our white man’s medicine was strong and the enemy was defeated.
“Many of our warriors went to this fight. Some became heroes, even in the eyes of the white man. They fought hard and they fought well. There were some who did not return. They went to the happy hunting ground from Peal Harbor, Bataan, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Anzio, Normandy and many other faraway places. Their friends and relatives were very sad — but they were also very proud.
“I am Kwa-hoo-sha-ha-ki (Flying Eagle.) I am an Indian. I am proud. I have spoken.”
We hear you Chief Bearskin. And we also are proud to have known you.