By Allen Dale Olson and Circe Olson Woessner

Listen! This story has audio components. Be sure to click on the colored words to hear the whole story. You can open them up in new tabs on your browser with the right-click menu. –Ed.

By the time we were all assembled around Tito and Lorraine Chinana’s dining room table, there were seventeen of us – fourteen residents of the Jemez Pueblo and three board members of the Museum of the American Military Family (MAMF). We were there not to dine —though it wasn’t long before Lorraine produced a wonderful meal–we were there to talk freely and openly about the effect of military service on Jemez Pueblo families during and since World War II.

MAMF board member Allen Whitt talks to Lorraine Chinana and Mabel Sando.

The get-together between MAMF and the normally very private Jemez citizens was due, in part, because of Museum Board Member Allen Whitt’s earlier interviews with some of them for the Veterans History Project.

The exceptional gathering got off to a good start when World War II Veteran Geronimo Fragua raised his hands and invoked a blessing from the Great Spirit for everyone in the room. In his booming voice, he wanted it understood that “we are all One…all under the same Great Spirit –and we must never forget that and we should say what needs to be said, and to remember we are all together.”

Circe Olson Woessner, MAMF Executive Director explained that she had created the Museum of the American Military Family because, as an Army wife and mother, and as a child growing up around the military, she had been surprised about how little public recognition had ever been given to the spouses, the children and parents, brothers and sisters of men and women in the military…

To facilitate the discussions, Circe had sent a list of questions a few weeks before, which many people had filled out or had sent along with one of those gathered.

The conversations over the next four hours ranged from combat experiences to home life, to PTSD and to the frustrations of trying to get Veteran benefits.  There was a great deal of laughter, some anger and a few tears. But above all, there was pride.

This is the first of several articles based on the stories.

L-R Lorraine Chinana, Martin Loretto, Allen Whitt, Mabel Sando, Ole Olson

Geronimo urged the attendees to speak frankly and reminded them that there was a time when the Indian wasn’t considered fit for military service but that a lot has changed since the Second World War. He added that he was proud of having been one of “Patton’s Boys” in WW II.

Like many military families, Lorraine and Tito Chinana can point to multiple generations of military in their family. Tito’s grandfather served in WW I and Lorraine recalled her military grandparents fondly.  Eighty-eight-year-old Napoleon Loretto said that all five brothers in his family served overseas concurrently during WWII.

Norma Toya said she felt “hurt” when her son first joined the military; she didn’t want him to leave home. Now three of her children and a nephew are in the military and seem to be making careers of it. Because of Jemez’ remoteness, it makes keeping in touch that much harder. Lorraine agreed.

Geronimo pointed out that’s one of the differences now. “Today they volunteer. I was drafted,” he said. Mabel Sando whose husband died in 1982, was not drafted, but chose to join the Air Force.

Lorraine took the lead in addressing concerns of the families. She told how Tito had gone off to Vietnam and she never really knew what he was doing in the war. Four members of the Pueblo had been killed over there, she said. She knew that Tito was suffering, but “we didn’t know about PTSD back then,” and the Agent Orange caused him to get diabetes and lose his left leg. She explained that no one from the government came to the Pueblo to talk about benefits. It was more than five years before they knew what was even available. Now they help all the Pueblo Veterans navigate the system to get the support and benefits.

Lorraine added that it took nearly 67 years for Geronimo and Napoleon and other Jemez Pueblo World War II Veterans to realize some of the benefits to which they were entitled, and that by telling their stories, it may help future Veterans.

Geronimo said that that is why it is so important  “to keep talking, to tell our stories, to learn about our government and our system.”

Norma Toya and Geronimo Fragua

Families in Jemez are close-knit. Rosalie Fragua said it was hard to manage everything when Geronimo went to Korea, but her grandmother-in-law came by early every morning to light the fire to have the house warm when Rosalie and two small children got out of bed. Her daughter, Laura, mentioned that while there was no formal spouse support group, the women in the Pueblo were very helpful to one another.  Norma, too, mentioned how important Tito and Lorraine were to not only her children, but to others in the Pueblo.

Everyone seated around the table had a homecoming story to relate. Napoleon started the reminiscing, and Tito and Norma chimed in.

There are several dozen Jemez Pueblo residents currently serving in the military Tito, Lorraine and the Walotowa Veteran’s Center ensure the OEF/OIF Veterans  get a good welcome home.

More stories unfolded and more memories were shared. Time flew by. We looked at the clock, and couldn’t believe four hours had passed. It hadn’t taken long for the tentativeness of the first few minutes to dissipate. As mothers, and Veterans, and children and wives, we had this in common:  service, sacrifice, pride, and deferring to Geronimo, we were, indeed, One.


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