Native Americans in full regalia offer veterans service in Quaker church

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- The Native American drum beat Sunday in the Penn Friends Church as the congregation remembered and honored the area's and country's veterans.
Wearing the outfits they had hand beaded, those who joined the drumming circle and their spouses, sang of and prayed for the soldiers who have fought for Americans' freedom through the years.
Some, like Debbie and Robin Hassinger of Cassopolis, were members of the Penn Friends, on Quaker Street. Others came to join the service from as far as Adrian.
Debbie, also known as the Good Star Woman, explained about how the women, as the life givers, carry a shawl to symbolize love and security.
With a knife in the back of her belt, she also nixed the stereotype of the women not being warriors.
Many of the men and women were veterans, as the Native Americans have the largest percentage of any race, compared to their number, serving in the military.
Their history of responsibility and duty dates back to early wars and their names are always among the dead from the first assaults.
Mark Joseph Topash, of Niles and South Bend, Ind., a registered nurse originally from Buchanan, went into the Navy in 1984. He said he wanted to help people as a non-combatant.
But he was given to the Marine Corps during Desert Shield and served six years in the Persian Gulf -- "to preserve freedom."
He carried in the Native American "flag," explaining that the Eagle feathers came from a live bird being cared for while injured.
The ceremony with Native American songs and the drum would not have been allowed in the Quaker church before 1978, he added, when their customs were considered "witchcraft" and against the law.
Brian Dayson, a Dowagiac Union HIgh School graduate, said he came for his father Joe, who was receiving chemotheraphy from the cancer he received from Agent Orange from his time as a Marine in Vietnam, and also for his great-grandfather and uncles who all were veterans.
Some, like Sam Bush, or Standing Bear, still find it hard to talk about. He was on an aircraft carrier for two years, while in the Marine Corp.
Even when the members of the congregation were asked to tell their name and service, some remained seated.
An elder member of the church, Byron Rice of Cassopolis, told of his first day being in Italy. "Eighteen planes and 60 to 70 men went down, before I even started. I was the lucky one. I came home."
His son also served and had he not been wounded and shipped home, he may have been killed as were his friends and fellow servicemen.

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