Who could imagine the sound of enemy fire would signal the last rites for our honored dead? In what may be among the most ironic acts of official neglect and insensitivity of the past seven decades, the Russian SKS rifle is now used in ceremonial service by some honor guards as the last sound our Native American veterans and their families hear as veterans are laid to rest across South Dakota. It is an act of omission and ignorance.
The SKS is a Soviet semi-automatic rifle designed in 1943 by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov. The Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova 1945 was semi-retired in the early 1950s, replaced with the indestructible AK-47. Both rifles continue in service today, in mostly enemy armies. Untold numbers of our soldiers have died and are dying at the hands of enemy soldiers armed with these formidable weapons.
Properly burying and honoring our war veterans is a sacred responsibility. Building a new national cemetery at Pine Ridge this year generated some controversy and cost more than $6 million. The government thought it was a nice gesture. Some veterans wanted it. Some did not.
But the decision to lay down the bodies of our beloved veterans to the sound of Soviet military arms is not controversial. It is outrageous.
When Commander Merwin Garneaux told me about his role and the veterans who support the Wild Horse Butte Intertribal Tokala, or Honor Guard, I was amazed. Those good volunteers go from event to event firing salutes, raising the flag, honoring those who honored us with their service. He was there with the last survivors of the Enola Gay. He was there with the last Marines who hit the beach at Okinawa. He is there every week for some soldier, sailor, Marine, or warrior of the wild blue, and every week he raises his SKS to fire the only weapons and ammunition his unit can afford, both of which they pay for out of their own pockets.
The South Dakota National Guard used to loan Garneaux M1 Garands, perhaps the most beautiful soldierly rifle ever shouldered to present arms, and the rifle that won World War II for America and our allies. The Guard stopped some time ago for reasons that don't make a lick of sense so don't anybody try to explain. Just don't.
There are plenty of things Gov. Dennis Daugaard can’t do on his own, wrongs he can’t right, tides he can’t stop. But this is something he can do with a stroke of his pen.
I call on Gov. Daugaard to open the vault and pony up 12 real rifles with ammunition, enough to make two stacks of arms, and two extra in case one or two break down or need repairs.
The current situation is an affront to the dignity of our men and women in uniform. There are seven honor guard members firing three volleys for each veteran honored, for a total of 21 shots. These weapons should be United States military M1 Garands, .30 caliber. They need enough ammunition to lay to rest another 30 years of the United States military, say, 50,000 rounds. That’s about $25,000. The rifles are about $1,000 each. The total is about $37,000, the cost of a light-duty pickup truck.
Anything less is inexplicable, insulting, unacceptable.
Frank Carroll lives in Custer and writes about current issues. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.