Message from the Chief
Dear Tribal Citizens,
I hope you and your families are doing well on this Native American Veterans Day 2023. I am writing on this special day to recognize our veterans for their exemplary service and dedication. 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 also 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. Like many other native communities, our Penobscot 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 in the direction of its counterpart memorial located on Indian Island, showing them the way home. Today, Charles resides in Normandy, being well cared for, and advocating for Wabanaki veterans from the place where he fought for our freedom.
In addition to Charles’ contributions, our tribal members 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. Even though 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 the many instances of the heroic service of our Penobscot veterans, I want to highlight the contributions of a few members. Chip Loring’s military service began at the age of 18 with the 173rd infantry. During his first tour in Vietnam, Chip received 3 Bronze Stars, 5 Army commendation medals and the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat. Chip returned for a second tour with the Airborne Rangers during which time he received 2 more Bronze Stars. White Francis is believed to be the first Penobscot killed in combat during the Revolutionary War in a battle with the British near Castine, Maine. I also want to acknowledge Lawrence Shay who was the only Penobscot community member killed in combat during the Vietnam war. Lawrence died on June 15, 1966. Serving during World War II, Donald Francis died on February 5, 1945, in the Philippines and has yet to return to his homeland. Many have recently served in the Middle East and other parts of the world like Paul Biscula Jr. who piloted Marine One for the President of the United States.
I also want to acknowledge our many woman warriors who 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.
It is important to acknowledge 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 of their lives. So, on this day of recognition let us not forget all our warriors that gave so much. It is my absolute honor to have been able to spend time with some of these amazing people and today is about recognizing the tireless service and efforts of our veteran community.
It is also about gratitude. On behalf of the entire Penobscot Nation, thank you veterans for your service. I know all our lives are better today because of your efforts to protect our Nation and Country. I hope this day finds you in good health and good spirits.
With the Upmost Respect,
Kirk E. Francis, Chief