Pyramid Lake Tribe pays tribute to sacrifices of their soldiers

Lenita Powers
5/30/2005 10:19 pm

NIXON — In the town of Nixon, near the remnant of the prehistoric lake that is part of their ancestral home, members of the Pyramid Lake Tribe gathered Monday to honor their warriors -- both the living and those who are gone.

Memorial Day is a time when the tight-knit community acknowledges the sacrifices soldiers from the tribe have made for their people and their country, said Norman Harry, tribal chairman.

“Growing up together for a lifetime, it’s hard to lose someone, but it brings everybody that much closer,” he said. “So our celebration of life when our young people return home is very special.

Mark Mix Jr. a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, returned last March from his second tour in Iraq, where he served as a radio operator in Falujah with the Marine Expeditionary Force.

“It was pretty intense with the rocket and mortar attacks,” he said. “One day when I was coming out of the barracks, I thought, ‘I could die at any moment.’ It was so unpredictable.”

Wearing his Marine dress blues, Mix stood in line for a potluck dinner that was being held in the Nixon gym, where the memorial ceremony took place. Nixon, Wadsworth and Sutcliffe are the three small communities on the reservation that are home to about 2,500 tribal members and another approximately 500 non-members, according to the tribal chairman.

Earlier in the day, portions of two state highways that run through the reservation were dedicated to two Vietnam veterans: John Aleck, a Marine killed in action who earned a Purple Heart, and Ronald Smith, who served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Smith died in 1999.

Aleck’s brother, Ben, thanked the late James Inman, a Veterans of Foreign Wars official, for working for two years to get the highways named after his brother and Smith.

“It’s an honor for our family,” Aleck said.

Josh Smith, the 22-year-old son of Ronald Smith, said his father gave him the motivation to become a “hot shot” wildland firefighter.

“It’s really nice to know people are honoring those who did great things for the country,” said Smith, who lives in Susanville, Calif.

Across the highway from the Nixon gym, Ronald Smith’s niece, Lela Leyva, and his sister, Leatha Lucas, placed flowers on his grave.

A brick mason, Smith did the masonry that borders the graves of his mother, father, brother and grandmother, who now surround him.

“I think he would have been proud to be honored that way,” Leyva said of her uncle’s highway dedication. “But I don’t think he would believe that he deserved it. He wasn’t that way, and he never talked about the war. He was very quiet about it, like most veterans.”

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