FOUR TRAILS TO VALOR
From Ancient Footprints to Modern Battlefields, a Journey of Four Peoples
Preface to the Revised Edition
This is the story of four men, a vast war, and the land they fought to save. It is the story also of those who walked before them who, following always the precious water, blazed the trails and set the directions. It is in its largest sense the story of all men who have settled lands and built nations and defended what their fathers had forged, and of those who in history’s fullness are yet to set their feet upon the ever-winding trail.
All paths since the industrial revolution led to World War II, the dominant fact of the twentieth century. From the war of 1898 America emerged a world force, to be drawn inescapably into global struggles. Acquisition of the Philippines drew us into the Far Eastern orbit, to come increasingly into conflict with an emergent Japan. Nor could we ignore the rising militarism that threatened the fragile balance throughout the entire industrial world. The oceans that once made America secure surged increasingly with ever-nearing dangers; and the war to end wars hadn’t.
World War II was the great watershed from which would course the cold war, the bloody struggles in Korea and Vietnam, and America’s own often uncertain path of leadership in a post-war world of shifting balances and changing values.
Torched by warlords of aggression, the holocaust was fought by men of peace, soldiers by necessity, seeking only to protect the homes of which they dreamed on the fields of battle. It is with these the story deals, not with global strategy or sweeping armies, but with four men and their personal war--for all wars are personal to those who fight them.
They were bred in America’s wombland, their nation’s great Southwest. Here settled America’s first permanent dwellers, erstwhile wanderers from Siberia who pushed in waves from the north to settle along the vital waterways of the arid land. Here from the south, long before Englishmen stepped ashore at Jamestown, pounded Spanish hoofprints, and the riders stayed and clung, so that two traditions composted long before the trails of the rambunctious Yankees wound from the east.
Here was earliest America.
At its center in present New Mexico rose the first houses, those of the Mogollon, the Mimbres, the Anasazi, to settle in time in the Zuñi and Rio Grande pueblos and the Hopi villages of Arizona. Here atop the mesa perches Ácoma, the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. Here also nestles Santa Fé, our nation’s oldest capital.
Here, at Hawiku, was fought the first formal armed conflict in our country, in 1540; and here, after the battle, was celebrated America’s first Thanksgiving--complete with the American turkey. Here also was fought the last of the Indian wars.
From this land of diverse cultures--America’s melting pot in microcosm, where the ballots are still bilingual--New Mexico gave the most volunteers per capita of any state in World War II and suffered the greatest per capita losses. Most were members of New Mexico’s National Guard, the oldest continuous militia in the nation, dating from 1598; and their largest contingent, those who fought the history-making battle of Bataan, are believed the most highly decorated of all American units in World War II.
And here, on the high Pajarito Plateau, where ancient man had worshipped his ancient gods, was born the new god of the unleashed atom. Here, on the desert where the prehistoric Mimbres were lost to history in the endless sands, the world’s first atomic bomb blasted man into the nuclear age. This land of long trail, old and new, is America’s Everyhome.
* * *
By his past is man defined, for the beliefs and traditions and values that shaped him are the armor he carries into battle and the lodestar that brings him home. Book I examines these diverse forces and follows each boy to manhood in his distinctive culture--Pueblo Indian, Navajo, Hispanic, and Anglo.
But the land of ancient yesterdays is called also the land of mañana, and those who fought for old tradition fought as well for a tomorrow in which they believed. Book II follows each as he fights to defend his heritage. Two fought on Bataan (reflecting the state’s unusually high percentage of men in this theater) and endured the infamous Death March, one to suffer the inhumanity of Japanese prison camps, one to escape to a three-year exile alone in the jungle, hunted by a remorseless enemy. A third pushed through the sands of North Africa and battled up the icy crags of Italy against a grim German host. The fourth became a Marine Code Talker, one of those intrepid Navajos whose never-deciphered messages made possible the bloody victories across the Pacific, to the doors of Japan itself.
Book III sees each man home, to an America forever changed, yet still to the cherished landmarks through which continue the trails of man’s passage into the land of mañana.
* * *
A word about usage: although it is today considered ‘politically correct’ to speak of Native Americans rather than Indians, I have chosen the latter term for three reasons. First, Native American seems to me self-conscious, clumsy, and explanatory of the obvious. Second, the people to whom it refers call themselves Indians. Finally, five hundred years have elapsed since Columbus mistakenly applied the misnomer. If such a recent atrocity as the wholesale abuse of the innocent adverb hopefully can be so quickly accepted on the grounds of popular usage, surely half a millennium’s use of Indian can pass the test of acceptability.
Finally, in my choices of historical events, I pretend neither to add any new research nor to relate in any way a complete history of New Mexico or of World War II. I have chosen only those scenes of war that directly affected this book’s subjects. I have likewise related only such fragments from the historical and mythological past that most nearly explain the ethos of each group represented in this story, and which set the trails upon which my Everymen directed their own feet toward their--and America’s--mañana.
Let us follow, as the philosopher said, where the trails will lead.
* * *
Since publication of the first edition of this work, two of the principals herein featured have crossed into the eternal mañana. Mike Romero of Taos and Santa Clara pueblos and Harold Foster, Navajo Code Talker, now rest in the soil that bore them. I learned of their deaths from their respective sons, Morrison Bird Romero and Larry P. Foster. Their passing merits an addendum.
The story ended with the heroes’ return from the great adventure. The ring is closed. Rather than destroy the structure with anticlimactic insertion, we present the necrology here.
Mike Romero departed the world in the way of his people, continuing to the end to plant his corn and hoe his field as his fathers had before him. He continued to fish the little stream and listen to the earth. He prayed to the Christian God in the little mission church and to his ancestral deities in the kiva. When moved to ‘go the Indian way’ he climbed the cliffs of Puyé and felt the presence of the Old Ones.
He followed the circling seasons, until his own days shortened to the pueblo’s ‘Time for Staying Still,’ and the earth received him as the soil receives the dried corn kernels. Now he sleeps beside his Carmel at the foot of the ancestral cliffs.
Harold Foster--the old soldier who refused to fade away--died while still on duty, a Code Talker, a once and always Marine. As recounted by his son Larry, it happened this way:
The sons had gathered. All knew their father had summoned them for something of importance. Together they filed behind him into the sweat lodge, observed the proper rituals, and then sat silently awaiting his message. In its time it came. Tears filled Harold’s eyes and overflowed--“the only time I ever saw my father cry,” Larry said. The moment passed and the eagle-hearted old warrior began to speak.
He would soon leave, he told them. His time was near. He had called them together to receive his last and ultimately significant instructions: they must always stick together, and they must always take care of their mother. The strength and direction of the family would soon descend on them. The bond that afternoon was strong.
That was on a Sunday. Four days passed. On Thursday Harold went with a fellow Code Talker to Flagstaff to demonstrate the unbroken code in action. They were scheduled to appear at two schools. It was a routine presentation, one they gave often, an unrehearsed exhibition wherein one sent messages handed to him from the audience as the other received and returned them, quickly and accurately deciphered.
Proudly wearing their traditional yellow shirts and medals, they had finished the first performance and were en route to the second when it happened. Suddenly and massively it struck. The stout old heart had reached its end. Within seconds Harold Foster was dead. He had in the largest sense died in action, performing his service as a United States Marine Code Talker.
He was buried at Window Rock with Catholic rites and Navajo observance. Larry lingered at the new-made grave long after the rest had gone, silent in his own communion. Then, sensing a presence perhaps, or aware of a movement in the quiet air, he looked skyward. Above him wheeled an eagle. Four times it circled--bird or warrior, substance, soul, or symbol?--and then it soared, leveled, and flew toward the Chuskas--the mountains on whose slopes the young Harold had grazed his father’s sheep--until it disappeared in clouds.
A year passed. On the anniversary of his father’s burial Larry returned to the gravesite, stood again in silent observance. And once again the mystic bird appeared and circled; four times around it glided, then spread its great wings and flew again mountainward, high and strong and free, and its eloquent finale was like that of the Navajo Blessingway:
In beauty it is finished.
My thanks to Morrison Bird Romero and Larry P. Foster for the stories of their fathers’ deaths.
Roswell, New Mexico