Charging Elk describes ordeal in losing three sons consecutively
He is a decorated Vietnam veteran with nine medals and who served as a helicopter crew chief and door gunner after four years of athletic success at Todd County High School in basketball and track. He earned the rank of specialist E-5.
With the recent rash in suicide on the Rosebud Sioux reservation it was time for Charging Elk to share with others the heart wrenching ordeal of experiencing the death of not one, but three of his children whom he says are in a better place today with their mother, Imogene who also passed away after their three children did.
Edd is one of those tribal members who always seem to be in the thick of things and can be counted upon to advocate for tribal sovereignty and also to comment upon the social fabric and well being of the Sicangu Lakota. As an original board member of Sinte Gleska University he learned many cultural traditions from his grandparents, the very prominent Sam and Nancy White Horse who were fixtures on the early local powwow circuit. He is often called upon to speak in public gatherings.
In recent months, he almost turned his back on Rosebud and lived his life in North Platte, NE, but his two girls talked him into applying for the directorship of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe's treaty commission office and now he finds himself once again concerned about the wellbeing of the Sicangu people.
As the chairman of Antelope community for 22 years and a tribal employee, he is no stranger to tribal affairs having been credited with drafting the charter for the Rosebud Casino.
Edd's first two sons, Clinton and Edd, Jr., died from pneumonia on different occasions and he found himself turning to prayer. He said, "My thoughts were on prayer. I was raised a Catholic. Before I could give it some thought, Edd., Jr. passed away. I never used drugs or smoked cigarettes. I ran thousands of miles and also wondered why this happened to me."
He admitted to drinking "good" whiskey and always mixed it with water or coke. He said, "There was no counseling except from my aunt, Theresa Stead and aunt, Bertha Shaw. They said, 'Hang in there and don't give up.' They knew what kind of pressure I was under."
Going back to his Vietnam veteran's roots, Charging Elk says he avoided any kind of honoring for Vietnam veterans and other such memorials up until 2003. Now he says, "I realize now that PTSD and all other related symptoms are imbedded deep." His father was a World War II veteran and a sole surviving son like Edd who is undergoing PTSD counseling now.
Eighteen months later, his third son, Quentin, 22, died from a staphylococcus infection after spending a week in Rapid City. "Coping with life today I learned to respect life and I learned to respect death. Respect is foremost for everyone and that became evident after 2003. I felt bad for a year and mourned. They are in a better place."
He says now that they are in a better place and he has gotten stronger, it is time to see what he can do for the tribe. He said, "I hold combat veterans in high esteem. I hope more would get involved in youth suicide prevention and health education. We tend to wait until it is too late."
After returning from Vietnam Charging Elk said that the late Merv Colombe called him to his house at a very specific time to share a shot of whiskey. He said he arrived at 4 p.m and they sat at a table under a tree and shared his very best whiskey. He said Colombe talked about the number of children he had and that he hoped they would never die before him.
Edd said, "He had a lot of foresight. Maybe he was trying to warn me. As traditional people we give our children everything they want. There is a danger in raising them too close as right after the funeral they wanted to visit the grave. They were saying, 'If he is gone, I want to be gone.' If you raise children close they are not afraid of death."
Charging Elk also sponsored a Ghost Dance east of Mission a couple of years ago and he said approximately 200 people attended the night event, many from the southwest.
When asked about what advice he might give to those who have lost children he said, "I think we have to revisit the word 'traditional.' In the old days respect was number one. It has to come from the heart. Society has tried to assimilate us into white society and there are pressures that are weighing on traditional thoughts."
He added, "When you talk, talk from the heart. We use 'wolakota' and practice it from the heart. Wanka tanka helps us through tough times."
The strength and resilience that Charging Elk has demonstrated shines through each time you visit with him as he says he is undergoing post-traumatic disorder counseling now.
He misses his old friends, like Ed Bordeaux, Carl Beauvais, Sr., and others from his generation who have journeyed to the spirit world for a variety of reasons.
Now he visits with other combat veterans who served in Vietnam like Nick Leading Fighter and Sonny Hare.
His efforts in "Nam" earned him the Air Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, the Good Conduct Medal among others and he will be receiving his father's flag from the Tripp County Veterans Affairs office.
As Edd faces one day at a time, he says, "I put all deaths in the same category and in the same spiritual philosophy knowing that my three sons and their mom is in a better place."