My name is Merritt Youngdeer. I’m a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, North Carolina. My grandparents, like many tribal members from all across our country, attended Carlisle Indian Boarding School.
I grew up greatly admiring all those who have served in the Armed Forces. I knew that many Native Americans (including my father and uncles) had served this country with distinct honor and fulfilled their call of duty.
The year was 1934, and I was six months old. My father, mother, and I lived in a small settlement in the foothills of the mountains 100 miles northwest of San Carlos. Our home was a wickiup that my father had built for us.
Life wasn’t easy for me. There were temptations and troubles in my home. There were tears and sorrows in my heart, and my pride was very hurt by my failures. But I tried to keep faith in the Indian religion of my fathers.
I stood before the judge as a desperate 24-year-old, overwhelmed by the consequences of my life choices. I felt completely defeated by addiction, and the word “hope” had no meaning in my life. All of society’s efforts to reform me had failed.
It was the winter of 1979, and my wife Kathy and I were rejoicing in the birth of our first-born son. We named him Nathaniel Ara Ross. I was working in a factory on night shift to make ends meet. At night when I came home, I would check on Nathaniel. Those precious days were filled with joy and wonder.
My name is Jack Cochise. My birth place and home is the Mescalero Apache Tribe in New Mexico. My grandmother was Amelia Naiche, daughter of the great Apache leader Naiche.
In San Carlos, Arizona, where I was born and raised, many of the Apache have a certain place where they go every Sunday to worship. They call this “holy ground.” There the people sing until noon, and then they eat together. Afterwards they pray and instruct the people, young and old, much as it is done in Sunday schools and churches.
Cochise, Geronimo, and Naiche were warriors. They will remain legends in Apache history. The Apache fought against the Spanish, Mexican, and United States governments for hundreds of years to keep their way of life in their homeland.