Fallon couple keeps active with military issues
LVN Editor Emeritus
November is Native American Heritage Month, and the Lahontan Valley News has featured articles on Native American veterans from our area. The LVN has worked with the Churchill County Museum, which is recording interviews for its oral history project. Because of limited newspaper space and future interviews lined up, the LVN will continue to feature Native American veterans during the upcoming months.
Although Ken Paul spent two years on active duty with the U.S. Marines in the early 1970s, he saw the need years later to help Native American veterans, particularly those who had served since Vietnam, when he lived at Pyramid Lake.
The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Veterans and Warriors Organization initially formed in 2008 to contact Vietnam veterans. As a founding member with William Wadsworth and another man referred to as J.P., they discovered Pyramid Lake had many Vietnam veterans needing assistance.
“We started the group talking to vets who were turned off by the (Veterans of Foreign Wars),” Paul, who now lives in Fallon, said. “We had guys from the different tribes and eras (of service). A lot of them didn’t know how to get help from Veterans Affairs.”
Paul, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, said he is part of the Colville, Snohomish and Flathead tribes.
The veterans’ group has remained small but has reached beyond Pyramid Lake, Paul said, with about 23 members to include his wife Jeanine. Through meetings, campouts and talking circles, Ken said the veterans began to talk about their problems that ranged from divorces, post-traumatic stress disorder to feelings of suicide.
“Let’s talk. We’re open. That’s how the group formed,” he said, adding both male and female veterans attend meetings. “You don’t have to be a vet, but can be a family member of current or deceased vets. You may not be in the military but affected.”
Both Ken and Jeanine Paul feel strongly by supporting veterans through their different causes or traveling with them on an Honor Flight Nevada to Washington, D.C., during the Veterans Day weekend in 2016. Not only was the all-Native American trip a testament to their heritage but also a thank you for their service and for many of them, recognition for the wars in which they fought.
The Pauls, who have been married for five years, said Native Americans have a higher representation in the military than other races. Jeanine Paul ,who is Paiute, said many Native Americans enlisted in the various military services even when the U.S. government considered them as noncitizens. Jeanine said the Native Americans had skill sets essential for making them good soldiers, sailors or Marines. Their background as hunters, for example, enabled them to camouflage efficiency in the field or to navigate from one location to another without being caught.
Ken Paul enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from high school in the 1970s. He wanted to see what was beyond the reservation.
“I joined the Marines to get away from the alcohol,” he recalled.
Jeanine said escaping the alcohol problems, though, continues to be a common reason even with today’s youth leaving the reservation and enlisting in the military.
Ken completed his basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and then reported to Camp Pendleton. Months into his enlistment, he severely injured his knee during amphibious training by jumping off from an amphib.
“We were doing shore training,” he remembered. “I jumped off, hit another Marine jumping off, and my knee hit his rifle.”
His command referred him to a medical facility at MCB Hawaii Kaneohe Bay where he began to receive treatment, but much to his chagrin, the knee didn’t improve after surgery. During his time in Hawaii, the Marine Corps promoted Ken to corporal before giving him an honorable discharge.
Ken’s dreams of serving his country were dashed, but he took one thing from the Marines: discipline.
Jeanine Paul, whose maiden name was Pete, spent her early years in Schurz but moved to Fallon when she was 9 years old. She graduated from Churchill County High School in 1986. Jeanine has a son in the U.S. Army who is on White House duty. She said he’s been to Kuwait numerous times and Afghanistan twice.
“He’s a career Army guy,” she said.” The first time he went over there, I gave him advice. Any situation is like watching a movie. If it happens there, leave it there.”
Jeanine also enlisted in the Army at a young age and ironically, she had the married last name of Rambo, which distinguished her from the other soldiers. The Army in the 1980s cultivated the man’s world, but “Rambo” proved she belonged. She completed her basic training at Fort Rucker, Ala., and then her advanced individual training (AIT) at Fort Jackson, S.C. to become an aviation operations specialist, or what she calls, an air traffic controller without a tower.
“I had the respect of my fellow soldiers because a lot of times, I was the only woman in the group,” she explained. “I tried to be strong — not be a woman — or otherwise, there was no respect.”
Jeanine moved up the ranks and was in charge of her own section. She led by example, the way it’s supposed to be.
“The military is black and white,” she said of Army training.
Jeanine applied lessons learned from her mother beginning with her basic training.
“My uniform was in tip-top shape. My boots were shined,” she described. “We started out with 23 girls but three died by suicide. We had a woman drill sergeant who said if you don’t behave in the military, they’ll get rid of you.”
Every female soldier who endured the weeks of basic training with Jeanine graduated together.
“I take great pride in that,” she said.
Jeanine spent the first four years of her military duty with the Nevada Army National Guard at the Army Aviation Support Facility at Stead and then the final two years in Mississippi. She has distinct memories of Mississippi especially when the unit had to don MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) gear for simulated biological or chemical training. The heat and humidity of Mississippi, she said, caused a number of people to fall out because of weather.
During those time when her National Guard unit trained with the active Army, she said her fellow soldiers realized they had to train “120 percent” above the requirements to prove themselves.
“The active Army trains every day,” she quickly pointed out. “We have one weekend a month and two weeks during the year.”
Jeanine also served a short tour in Panama as part of a surveillance team looking for drug traffickers. During that exercise, she said the unit exchanged gunfire with drug runners. At the end of her enlistment in the National Guard, though, she decided to return to the civilian world.
“I didn’t stay in long enough to go on a deployment,” she said, noting a tone of disappointment.
Move forward almost 30 years, and Jeanine is now a psychiatric nurse for the state’s Northern Nevada Adult Health Center in Sparks.
Ken and Jeanine still reminisce about their Honor Flight Nevada trip, but it’s the small events that resonate with her, especially when she was with another veteran who was in a wheelchair. At every stop, she said people visiting the memorials would acknowledge the veterans with applause.
“People thought I was a helper except I had on my (Army) hat and red shirt,” she said, explaining the red shirt indicates a veteran participant on Honor Flight Nevada. “We passed by some girls, maybe 12 or 13 years old, and what they said touched me. ‘It’s a woman veteran.’ They came up and gave me a hug.”
Remembering her days in the military, she said women had to work 5 to 10% harder to get recognition.
“Looking back at my career, I was able to keep up and hold my own,” she added.
While at the memorials, she said the Native American veterans presented their own wreath at the Vietnam Memorial Wall with each Nevada vet signing a piece of buckskin attached to the arrangement. At the wall, Ken blew the eagle’s whistle to honor the deceased or missing veterans.
“I did that for all the veterans who are on the wall,” Ken said, likening the blowing of the eagle’s whistle as giving a moment of silence.
Ken said he had earned the whistle, which is made of bone, when he was younger by spending five days fasting on a mountain in Washington state with no food or water.
The Pauls spoke to a soldier and learned about his watch at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and visited the grave of Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian and Marine, like Ken, who fought in World War II. He and four other Marines and a sailor raised the U.S. flag over Iwo Jima as the battle raged between the American and Japanese forces during the early months of 1945.
“Both Ken and I had tears,” Jeanine said of visiting the national cemetery. “They (Honor Flight) made a special stop for our trip.”
The Pauls said they respect the founder and executive director of Honor Flight Nevada, Jon Yuspa, for the trip he organized for the Native American veterans. They remember both the recognition when changing plans on their way to the east coast or the welcome they received at the Baltimore Washington International Airport when veterans and civilians lined the arrival area when they deplaned. She said strangers thanked the veterans for their service, and thought it was cute when one child thought Ken was a code talker.
The Honor Flight Nevada fits in with what Ken and Jeanine have been doing to help fellow veterans. The time the veterans spent together gave others an opportunity to talk about their military service.
“Honor Flight was a time for healing,” Ken said.
When Ken’s uncle fought in Korea in the early 1950s, Ken said he never talked about his experience. On the other hand, though, Ken discovered many Native Americans opened up about their military service and began talking to one another on the Honor Flight. Eventually, they also talked to their families about their military experiences.
Ken paused for a moment.
“It was a ripple effect,” he said.