2020 Veterans’ Hall of Fame Ceremony Honoring Ralph Bowen

Speech by Rebecca Bowen. October 2, 2020. Seneca Allegany Casino.

Nya:wëh sgë:nö’swagwe:go’. Rebecca Bowen ni’gya:hsöh. Onödohwa’ga:’ni’ah Gogwe’ö:hweh Agkgehjöhni’-ga:h koh.
Annabell Clark Bowen yehya:hsöh neh agk-kno’ëh. Ralph Bowen haya:hsöh neh ha’nih.

Let me begin by saying our family is very grateful for this day. It will be a family memory for his grandchildren to share with their grandchildren. It will be a community memory for all veterans and their families.
People have asked our Father about what he thinks and feels about being acknowledged and honored. It has made him quiet and reflective for two reasons.

First, he carries the heavy weight of knowing he was only one of the over 16 million Americans who served during World War II. He in no way wants to do anything that would dishonor their service.
Secondly, he describes himself as feeling “very small” in light of the immense service of millions and the ultimate sacrifice of over 400,000 airmen, soldiers, and sailors.
Our Father did not begin to tell of his World War II experiences until he was in his early 90s, over 68 years after coming home from Manduria Air Base in southern Italy. Just this week he said everything is happening so fast and it is all a great surprise to him – just one of the over 16 million who served and sacrificed.

Dad was born and raised in Jonegano:h, the Coldspring community.

He, his older brother Leslie, younger brothers Elwood and Acel endured the hardships of loss with the deaths of both parents, Francis and Bertha, and a baby sister Lucille. They lived for a time with their grandmother Esther Killbuck and their great grandfather Samuel “Oak” Fatty.
Dad and Elwood eventually went to the Thomas Indian School on the Cattaraugus Territory.

From TIS he went to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and was stationed at the camp in Kanona, NY. The camp is long gone now but my brother Dennis regularly takes Dad for a ride out that way just to see the old site where the camp once stood.

Three weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Dad enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was honorably discharged in 1945.

Approximately 313 young Senecas, including several women, from Allegany, Cattaraugus and Cornplanter served in the armed forces during those years. Among them were his brothers Tech Corporal Leslie Bowen, Private 1st Class Elwood Bowen, and PFC Acel Bowen. Uncle Elwood survived D-Day on Utah Beach and not long after that in some small French village Uncle Elwood heard someone call his name and it was Uncle Leslie riding atop an army vehicle. As Elwood ran along they shared a few words as Leslie’s engineer group rolled on through the village. Leslie’s son Winfield is here today.

An uncle, Staff Sgt. Johnson Jimerson, served in the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was a POW in a German prisoner of war camp. His son Norman is here today.

But not everyone came home from the war. Three of Dad’s boyhood friends from Coldspring did not return and we remember them today – Linas Snow and brothers Victor and Kenneth Fatty.

Young Seneca men have gone off to war since time immemorial. They have fought in every war beginning with the American Revolution – although we weren’t on the same side in that war. They have given of themselves to keep our aboriginal homelands free. Seneca men and women still do that today.

My Dad accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in 1951 and a few years later with young family in tow we moved to the Mt. Echo Indian Bible Institute located in the hills of Humphrey – just a few miles from here. Mom and Dad graduated several years later and we resettled in the community of Joë’hesta’, Red House, where we lived until 1965.

1965 was the nadir in contemporary Seneca Nation history. The construction of the Kinzua Dam just north of Warren, PA created a reservoir that would inundate 10,000 acres of our precious homelands. I read in an old Seneca Nation minute book that Ralph Bowen spoke strongly against the dam. Those must have been strong words because they don’t record the words of everyone who speaks strongly in the Council meetings. Two decades after fighting for America my Dad witnessed the violation of the 1794 Canandaigua treaty which promises we will never be disturbed in our homelands, he felt the pain of his home being burned down, and removal from the family homestead.

Those were the years that Dad taught us words like “treaty” and “sovereignty”. We were just children mind you, but he thought it important that we know those words and what they mean.

For many years he served as pastor first at the Baptist Church in Red House and then the Red House Memorial Church in Jimersontown. Those years also took him into Seneca Nation politics. Over the course of 40 years he has served 5 terms as a Seneca Nation Councillor, he’s been a Peacemaker and a Court of Appeals judge, Chief Marshal and Assessor.

On the heels of Kinzua came termination – a federal policy to end the special trust relationship between Indian nations and the U.S. federal government. My Dad sat on Council during those years as our Nation faced this very real threat. He always held up our treaties, kept the faith, and spoke strongly.

As a young man he played our ancient game of dewa’ëö, lacrosse. Back in those days the game was played behind the old longhouse at Coldspring. After the war he played for teams from Olean and Rochester. In time interest in the game waned here at Allegany although it remained alive and well at Cattaraugus. But in the late 1960s my Dad set out to bring the game back to Allegany. He organized a team, raised funds for equipment, and served as the first coach of the Allegany Arrows.

Dad graduated from the Police Academy at Jamestown Community College and if I recall correctly at that time he was the oldest to ever graduate from the academy. He is a retired iron worker, Iron Workers Local 348.

In closing, from the Bible’s book of wisdom Proverbs 17:6 says, “Grandchildren are like a crown to the elderly, and the glory of children are their parents.” Dad, you are indeed the glory of your children and now the world knows too. Congratulations on your induction into the New York State Veterans Hall of Fame. We love you. To all the veterans here today, nya:wëh, thank you.

We acknowledge with great appreciation, respect, and family love all who made this special day of honor possible, especially Senator George Borrello.