The warrior in the memoirs and fiction of Native American Vietnam War literature

Stefanie Hundt
Dept. of English, Lehigh University
August, 2006


Interest in my dissertation, The Warrior in the Memoirs and Fiction of Native American Vietnam War Literature , began as a teenager in Germany. There I read my first novel, Winnetou , by Karl May, a traveler's romanticized fiction of a Native American warrior lifestyle doomed to extinction. While studying at the University of Augsburg, Germany, I had the opportunity to spend an exchange year at the University of Vermont. This visit gave me perspective on the complex lives of colonized, non-romantic Native American heroes and heroines--- often in search of their identity. The dissertation explores this identity search from the perspective of a Native American Vietnam War warrior, with focus on novels by Delano Cummings, Jim Northrup, Philip Red Eagle, and Leroy TeCube. Their recent accounts have opened a new literary field outside traditional Vietnam War literature. In the fictional texts, the dissertation looks at the reasons for Native American veterans' severe effects of post-traumatic stress disorder caused by a stereotypical treatment in Vietnam but centers on the necessary "healing" ceremonies taking part after their return. The stories emphasize this healing process, focusing on Native American community, storytelling, and traditions. The memoirs, on the other hand, emphasize a Native American warrior tradition with a strong effect on the upbringing of male tribal members and their consequent reaction in Vietnam. Thus all four veteran-authors stress a return to Native American roots. The texts solve the problems of identity alienation, fragmentation, and dissolution by healing the warrior as a whole person (mind, spirit, and body) in an environment of acceptance and understanding on their tribal homelands:

The dissertation treats the traumatic experiences in the Vietnam War and the healing process back home from an American Indian perspective. It explores the reasons for American Indian veterans' severe effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and the necessity of "healing" ceremonies after their return, emphasizing American Indian community, storytelling, and spirituality. But it also shows that Native American warrior traditions enabled the Native American soldiers to have less difficulty or even excel in Vietnam. Thus American Indian Vietnam War literature centers on "homing in"---the need to come to terms with war and trauma by returning to an American Indian identity. Their own Indian identity means a reliance on their "old ways." The circle is the umbrella structure which can be re-embraced, whose value is re-experienced, and then strengthens the protagonists in both the non-fictional and fictional works. The Vietnam War and writing about it does not only heal the authors themselves and helps them to gain a leadership role but also the identity of the tribal community (including other veterans) who share the power of the stories and their Indian background. In this way Native American Vietnam War veterans use their war stories to celebrate and spread their traditional culture.