STURGIS -- Three rifle volleys echoed through the Hills Tuesday afternoon, bidding farewell to the nation’s last Oglala Lakota code talker.
Clarence Wolf Guts, an 86-year-old World War II veteran, was laid to rest in the Black Hills National Cemetery with the Lord’s Prayer and drum beat resonating inside the rock rotunda.
A procession of 30 vehicles -- including one white Chevy Impala with the sign “We love you Grandpa Clarence, forever in our heart.” -- followed a white van that carried Wolf Guts from a traditional Lakota ceremony in Wanblee to Sturgis. A crowd of over 60 traveled to pay their respects to the war hero.
“I knew he was an important man to people because of his activities in the Army, but I didn’t know this many people had so much respect for him,” said Don Doyle, Wolf Guts’ only son. “I’m very proud of him, and I’m very grateful to them coming all the way here to pay respects to my father.”
A line of American flags held by Patriot Guard Riders, volunteer veterans from North and South Dakota, waved above Wolf Guts’ casket as it entered the rotunda followed by his family. The sound of a bugle echoed throughout the cemetery as taps was played by a member of The Retired Enlisted Association of Rapid City.
Gov. Mike Rounds had asked that flags in the state be flown at half-staff Tuesday to honor Wolf Guts. Wolf Guts was one of 11 Lakota, Nakota and Dakota code talkers from South Dakota who aided the war effort by transmitting communications in their native language, which the Germans and the Japanese could not translate.
Donald E. Loudner, national commander of the National American Indian Veterans organization, had taken Wolf Guts to the World War II Memorial in Washington and lobbied congressmen to honor the code talkers.
“He’s a very unselfish hero, always complimenting somebody else,” Loudner said. “He always said to me ‘I never did anything great, I was just one of a team.’”
Oglala Sioux Tribe President Theresa Two Bulls first met Wolf Guts after the tribal council honored him for his contributions. She said the passing of Wolf Guts is sad but the nation has to remember what he represented and what he did for the country.
“It’s because of people like him that we get to live in peace, and people should remember that and honor them with respect,” Two Bulls said.
This week has been named Clarence Wolf Guts week by the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations.
As friends and families left the rotunda after the service, the family took Wolf Guts over the hill to say their last goodbyes. With a hawk flying overhead, Doyle knew everything was going to be alright. The spirits came to lift up his father and take him away.
“I was sad at first, but when I saw that the spirit came out. It was a very good sign,” Doyle said. “When we all saw that, we knew he was OK.”
Contact Tyler Jerke at 394-8415 or firstname.lastname@example.org