From the Flames of Wounded Knee 

to the Center of God's Will


Darrell New Plenty Stars

[Co-written with Shirlee Evans]  

Chapter one


      We were headed for a firefight.  I could sense the biting tension as my unit struck out from our treeless, vine-ensnarled hilltop base known as Hill 50 on that early August morning of 1971.  Below us stretched the tangled jungle.  According to surveillance information it now teamed with over five thousand Vietcong.     

       Gripping our M16 rifles we advanced with caution, shifting the weight strapped to our backs, the forward thrust of our boots rustling the ground cover.  Within that deceptively quiet jungle I felt eyes watching our every move.  We were exposed.  They were hidden.

      Just before reaching the jungle’s edge we stopped to dig in, establishing our forward perimeter.  I was no raw recruit; a corporal at nineteen, well aware of what we were about to face. For this was my second tour of duty in Vietnam with my Infantry Engineers Unit.

      I decided on that day I would use my warrior rope for the first time, after having packed it around in my gear for months.  The short length of hemp was wrapped in a tight coil around a stubby wooden stake that was attached to one end.  Uncle Andrew presented me with the rope during my last visit home after boot camp, just before shipping out the first time. 

      As a medicine man on our Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of South Dakota, my uncle was revered by some, feared by others.  He had always treated me well, although I sometimes wondered about the strange powers the man seemed to possess.  He stood five feet ten inches tall, his short black hair usually topped by a black cowboy hat whether riding his horse or walking.  He had a slow deliberate way about him, seeming to always be thinking ahead. 

      To visit him I’d had to hike fifteen miles over our reservation’s dust-deep roads toward the Badlands that rose close behind the little log cabin where my uncle lived with my aunt and grandmother on the banks of White River.  I’d come to tell them goodbye. Basic training was over and I was shipping out to Vietnam. 

      Three days later, as I was getting ready to leave, Uncle Andrew took me aside. “Darrell, it’s long been the way of Oglala Lakota warriors to take along a warrior rope when heading into battle.”  He pulled out the short rope with the wooden stake and handed it to me.  “When the battle starts, you tie the loose end to your waist and push the stake deep in the ground.  Lakota warriors don’t run, Darrell.  We stay till the fighting is over, one way or the other.”

      I’d heard stories about those warrior ropes, but never had I thought I would be presented with one.  I took it from him and just stood there staring at it before rolling it up and shoving it deep in a pocket of my jeans.  “Thanks, Uncle Andrew. This means a lot to me.”

      And so there in Nam, standing on the jungle-ringed hillside, I secured the loose end to my belt. My buddy next to me laughed.  “What do you think you’re doing?” 

      I'd grown to like the skinny little Pole whose skin was nearly as dark as my own.  But when I tried to explain what the warrior rope meant to my people, he just shook his head and turned away.  I supposed Indian ways seemed strange to him. 

       But I was serious--dead serious.  "Remember, this stake is not to be pulled out," I warned.  "Not until the battle's over.  Only then can you pull it out for me and only if I'm dead." 

      He kind of shrugged.  He seemed to be about to say something when all hell broke loose.  From sonewhere below, our hidden enemy erupted from the jungle.  screaming rifles and the rat-a-tat of rapid arms fire blzed beside and drummed below me.  Sending up a quick prayer to the Jesus my aunt relied so heavily upon--the aunt who had raised me, the one I now called mom--I shoved the stake down in the damp jungle ground. 

      Shouldering my rifle I started returning fire.  I was about to throw myself flat to the ground when I was hit in the stomach.  Falling forward, still gripping my rifle, I rolled onto my side and looked down.  Blood spread across my stomach...  Then my chest.  Pain clinched me like eagle's talons, stealing control of my limbs, my mind, my being.  I was mortally wouldn't and knew it.  Mercifully the fight raging around me faded into oblivion. 

      When a veiled awareness began to return there was no longer the roar of gun fire.  All was quiet--too quiet.  The pain in my gut was intense.  I can't be dead, I reasoned, or I woundn't be hurting like this.  Or would I?  Slowly my senses began to knit themselves together. 

      With great effort I opened my eyes to find I was looking straight up at the sky.  Turning my head slightly I saw someone was lying next to me--someone who was obviously dead.  Other bodies lay strewn about.  I heard someone moan, knowing full well it had come from me.  I wondered incredulously, Am I the only one who survived?  I lay there drifting in and out of conscousness until the sound of footfalls on the hard-packed mud reached me.  A shadow passed over my face as I fought to bring my eyes into focus. 

      "Hey, over here!" the shadow yelled.  "this guy's alive." 

      Running boots pounded the ground then stopped.  Hands felt around my neck. 

      "No dog tags.  His uniform's shot to rags.  Obviously Vietcong," the second voice deducted, "With that dark skin." 

      I tried opening my mouth to protest, to explain that I was American, but no part of my body cooperated.  The pain in my insides seared hot.  Just let me die, let me go, I sent up a prayer.  But where will I go when I die?  Mom had warned me... 

For some reason the Web Host has wiped out all of the comments that were left here. Sorry about that! 

Shirlee Evans


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The town of Pine Ridge is located near the state boundary of South Dakota and Nebraska. on the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Indian Reservation.

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