Sat. Jan 18th, 2020

Last WWII Survivor, 94, Gets the Highest Honor by Nez Perce Tribe

4 min read

In a special ceremony which honored the oldest member of the Nez Perce Tribe, this last WWII veteran (94) thanked everybody. Click here to find out more.

Nez Perce Tribe Remembers and Honors Its Veterans

This Saturday, the oldest member of the tribe, Alex “Mike” Pinkham Jr., received the highest honor in the ceremony his tribe organized to honor his military service. This brave man expressed how grateful he was for the ceremony and the dances, songs, and prayers which were performed in his honor. This event took place in the PI-Nee-Waus Community Center.

Pinkham Jr. stated that he couldn’t be more grateful for this event. This emotional tribute also included the Moonlight Dance, which was performed by his youngest sibling. The thing which made this dance very special was the fact that the tribe hadn’t played it in public since 1974.

The traditional songs were played on drums, which are generally meant to be an encouragement for each tribe warrior who is headed to battle. Armand Minthorn of Mission, Ore., the nephew of Pinkham Jr., led the invocation with his powerful voice.

Minthorn later stood before the crowd saying that the Nez Perce Tribe elders think that it was much better to show their honor, love, and appreciation to the veterans who were still alive. He added that each guest of the ceremony would have precious memories of the evening on which they honored a veteran of war from their tribe.

Pinkham Joined the Navy in 1943

Pinkham used to serve in the U.S. Navy. Since 1956, he has lived in the Anchorage area. After he retired, the man had his doubts about whether or not he should go back to the Lenore area, where he had spent most of his youth. In the end, he gave up that scenario. As he said, that area was too damn hot, even though he had the best memories of it and was raised there along with his eight siblings.

By that time, he was accustomed to Alaska, and the weather was just as he liked it. He also added that Alaska had been very good to him. The very first time he was captivated with this territory was while he served on a cargo ship in the Navy. At that time, he told the members of his family that the Alaska mountains were more massive than the ones in Idaho. Still, he always hoped to return to his original home someday. It’s just that the day never came.

Pinkham’s military service started in 1943. He volunteered when he was just eighteen, along with his high school friend. He began to work as a gunner. Pinkham guarded the vessel against air forces in the Pacific Theater. He also visited multiple ports while serving as a Merchant Marine and went as far as South Australia.

As it happens, he was on a particular ship which sailed all the way to France. Their mission was to pick up U.S. troops and take them to Japan. In fact, Pinkham was in the middle of the South Pacific when the atomic bomb exploded. After Japan surrendered, he found himself in Tokyo harbor, where he turned twenty-one.

End of His Service and Moving North

Pinkham was discharged from the Navy in 1946, after three years he had spent fighting. He enrolled in a diesel mechanic training program, under G.I. Bill. After completing it, he moved to the Yakama Indian Reservation, where he did numerous seasonal jobs. Fast forward some ten years, he started the engine on his 1955 Willys Jeep and headed north. By the way, Pinkham still owns the Jeep.

As he admitted, he got pretty tired of having three different jobs each year. Pinkham considered himself a very fortunate individual because he got the job as a swab jockey. This was in Native hospital in Anchorage. He keep that position for the next eighteen years. He didn’t feel the need to leave once he managed to land a secure job.

Pinkham had a house at Bird Creek, some thirty miles apart from Anchorage. He purchased the 2.5 acres of property for 240 dollars from the federal government. Later on, he built a house. He lived there with his wife until she passed away in 2006. They met at a hospital, where both of them used to work, and fell in love, crowning their affections with marriage.

Nowadays, Pinkham lives in a senior-living facility. He said that the last visit to Lapwai he took was almost fifteen years ago. However, he keeps in touch with his family, especially his nephew from Portland, Jaime Pinkham. Fortunately enough, his nephew likes Alaska and uses every chance he can get to visit his uncle. The war veteran said that his nephew and Alaska share the same quiet and self-sufficient spirit.

Long History of Military Service in Pinkham Family

Allen Pinkham, 81, Alex’s younger brother, said that their family had a long and rich history of serving the military. Their other brother, late Albert “Sandy” Pinkham, was a Normandy Beach survivor. Allen said that he also went through a whole year of frequent combat, but never got a single scratch.

Many other family members attended the two-hour long ceremony. Pinkham received many gifts at dinner. Also, Allen Pinkham stated that he liked to feed people who attended such a gathering and that he was proud to have such an amazing sibling.

After finding that the only WWII surviving veteran from the tribe was coming for a reuniting visit, Mary Taylor (runs the tribe’s veteran program), helped to organize this celebration. There were tears in the eyes of all the participants once they saw the youngest tribe members honoring the oldest one.

Taylor added that even though this brave and kind man was a veteran, he had never been honored before, so something had to be done about it.

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