- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A Comanche warrior who has earned the Silver Star for bravery in combat has been recognized by Saint Barbara - the patron saint of the artilleryman.

George Red Elk was inducted into the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara Military Honor Society at a ceremony Jan. 7 during the 45th Field Artillery Brigade Dining-out at the Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City. The honoree didn’t know what to expect. He said he left feeling humbled and more blessed than ever.

“To be truthful, I didn’t really know anything about that award,” Red Elk said. “It kind of blew my mind.”

Sgt. Maj. William Blasingame nominated Red Elk for the award without telling him, according to The Lawton Constitution (http://bit.ly/2iKP47G ). A week before the event, Red Elk said he wasn’t going. That’s when he was told he was being honored and had to go. A lot of people knew of the renowned Comanche warrior and wanted to meet him. He’s the son of Comanche Code Talker Roderick Red Elk, and both are members of the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.

“It was a good honor,” Red Elk said. “After everything was said and done, when I got home and thought about it, it was set up kinda like the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. It means a lot.”

The Honorable and Ancient Order of Saint Barbara is a military honor society for both the Army and Marine Corps Artillery, including Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery, said Lanny Asepermy, former historian for the Comanche Indian Veterans Association (CIVA). It is awarded through the Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery associations. The award is named for Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillerymen.

“The Ancient Order is reserved for those members of the artillery community who have achieved long-term exceptional service to the artillery surpassing even their brethren in the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara,” Asepermy said.

Saint Barbara, the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat, was tortured and executed after her father discovered she had converted to Christianity, Asepermy said. According to legend, her father executed her and, in divine retribution, he was then struck down by a lightning bolt. She became the patron saint in time of danger from thunderstorms, fires and sudden death.

“She became the patron saint of artillerymen from early on in the development of artillery pieces, as early cannons were unreliable, and at times would explode wounding and killing their crews,” Asepermy said. “Saint Barbara was invoked by these early cannoneers in the hope she would protect them from this fate.”

The patron saint may have truly intervened for Red Elk during his service in Vietnam. She rewarded him duly - in both his survival and honors that followed.

As a tank commander for D Company, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Red Elk suffered severe wounds, but his actions inspired his unit to press on and overpower a battalion-size Viet Cong force, Asepermy said.

Red Elk said he was with his unit in 1969 when it was ambushed near a rubber plantation in what was called the “Michelin Rim.” A rocket propelled grenade (RPG) went over his head, hit a rubber tree and fell on his .50-caliber machine gun, breaking the mount. Red Elk picked up the gun and moved it before taking to the controls. A firefight followed that included two more RPGs hitting the tank. His right hand suffered a shrapnel wound. Despite the injured hand, he took control of the tank’s gun and maneuvered the tank controls while killing two RPG teams. Red Elk said he fought for about 45 minutes before passing out from the loss of blood and the pain. Following two weeks of convalescence, he returned to his unit. He later was awarded the Silver Star for his gallantry - one of only four Comanches confirmed to have won the honor.

Serving in the Army from 1967-1973, he served in the Oklahoma Army National Guard from 1982-1991. From that service, he returned to active duty during a time of war, serving in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War, as a field artilleryman surveyor, with the 45th Infantry Division.

Asepermy said he is one of 58 Comanches to have been awarded the Purple Heart.

Although he’s considered 100 percent disabled from combat experiences, Red Elk continues to serve his veteran brothers and sisters. He has thrice been elected commander of the CIVA and currently serves as treasurer. He has also served as vice commander, Asepermy said. He is one of 26 Comanches designated with the honorable title of Numu Pukutsi and was awarded the French Legion of Honor on behalf of the 14 Comanche Code Talkers that served in Europe during World War II.

“He has dedicated over a decade and a half of faithful and honorable service to the CIVA and was instrumental with the establishment of the Comanche Veterans Patriotic Room, Tahsequah Garden and the upgrade of the CIVA Court of Honor,” Asepermy said. “In addition, he has participated in over 175 military funeral honors for families of deceased veterans, the placement of over 175 military markers for our veterans and over 800 other commitments as a member of the Color Guard and guest speaker at banquets, memorials, celebrations, fairs, parades, homecomings, pow wows, weddings, dedications, ceremonies, sporting events, school and military functions, hospital, nursing home, assisted-living and private home visits and prayer services.”

For the 1966 Lawton Eisenhower graduate, a decision while bringing in the wheat harvest one summer in Nebraska has begotten a life of honor. Red Elk said its rewards bear fruit in his life with his wife of 47 years, Fran. Three children and six grandchildren are the real legacy. They are the reason he fought for so long.

“Life’s been good,” Red Elk said. “I’m being blessed every day.”

___

Information from: The Lawton Constitution, http://www.swoknews.com

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