CHIEF'S MESSAGE updated 11/11/21
Dear Tribal Citizens,
I hope you and your families are doing well on this Veteran’s Day of 2021. I am writing on this special day to recognize our veterans for their service and dedication. As most of you are aware, the members of the Penobscot Nation have a long and rich history of military service in the protection of our Tribe and this country. This service includes participation in every conflict and war this country has engaged in beginning with the Revolutionary War. In 1775, a British warship destroyed a Penobscot trading post at Fort Pownall. Soon thereafter, General George Washington requested an alliance with the Penobscots. Despite the fact that our people were subject to bounty proclamations, a tool of extermination, Chief Joseph Orono urged his fellow Wabanaki to side with the Americans in the war for their independence. Thus began our peoples’ long and distinguished service to the United States.
Although it is not possible to recount all of the many instances of the exemplary service of Penobscot veterans, I want to bring attention to a few who have demonstrated tremendous bravery and character.
As a newly elected chief in 2007, I had the honor and privilege of accompanying Charles Shay to the French Embassy where he received the Legion of Honor award from the French President for his heroic efforts in World War II. The Legion of Honor is the highest award given to anyone who is not a French citizen. Charles is the last living Native American veteran who was part of the storming of the beach at Normandy. Charles was also instrumental in the creation of Native American Veterans Day by the State of Maine. In a 2008 day of recognition for veterans in Augusta, Charles stated, “this needs to be an annual recognition” for veterans. The Governor of the State agreed. Through Charles initiative and due to the efforts of many of our Native veterans, June 21st is now an official annual day of recognition for our warriors. This happens to be the same day that Chief Orono made his 1775 speech in Watertown, helping to cement the alliance of the Wabanaki with the Americans. Charles was one of many from our community that served during WWII. Similar to many other native communities, our community has a higher level of participation in wartime efforts than any other community in the state. There is now a Penobscot statue of a turtle at Normandy as a memorial to recognize all Penobscot veterans; it faces the direction of its counterpart memorial located on Indian Island, showing them the way home.
I also want to recognize Chip Loring for his contributions to the Veterans Day effort and obviously for his heroic military efforts, which began at the age of 18 during his service with the 173rd infantry. During his first tour, Chip received 3 Bronze Stars, 5 Army commendation medals and the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat. Chip returned to Vietnam for a second tour with the Airborne Rangers during which time he received 2 more Bronze Stars.
It is also important to acknowledge our woman warriors who also served bravely and selflessly. People such as Mary Nelson, the first Penobscot woman to join the United States Marine Corp. Mary received the Distinguished Service award in 2004 for her service. Donna Loring served during the Vietnam war and was stationed near Saigon where she worked in a communication center. Donna has also served in several leadership roles including being the representative to the Maine legislature. Diane Dunn, Penobscot Descendant and daughter of Ruth Jewell, was the first female promoted to Brigadier General of the Maine National Guard, a tremendously well earned honor.
Of course, it is important to remember the fact that this service does not come without sacrifice and consequences. Many of our warriors have been wounded, suffered through trauma and loss, and some have paid the ultimate price with the loss of their lives. White Francis is believed to be the first Penobscot killed in combat fighting for America during the Revolutionary War. He died battling the British near Castine, Maine. I also think about Lawrence Shay who was the only Penobscot community member killed in combat during the Vietnam war. Lawrence Died on June 15, 1966. Donald Francis died on February 5, 1945 in the Philippines and has yet to return back to his homeland.
So on this day of recognition let us not forget all of our warriors that gave so much.
As I mentioned in the beginning, there is not enough space in this letter to mention everyone and all the many ways our people have contributed to the United States military. Beyond the examples mentioned, there are so many more that have done and continue to do great things in their service, it truly is impressive and not easily matched. Many have recently served in the Middle East and other parts of the world and we have had a tribal member in Paul Bisulca Jr. pilot Marine One for the President of the United States.
It is my absolute honor to have been able to spend time with some of these amazing people and today is certainly all about recognizing our Nation’s contributions to this country through the tireless service and efforts of our veteran community. It is also about gratitude. On behalf of the entire Penobscot Nation, thank you all for your service. I know our lives are better today from all the efforts of everyone who has served to protect our Nation and Country. I hope this day finds you in peace and in good health.
With the Upmost Respect,
Kirk E. Francis, Chief