Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks to Native American War Veterans This Thanksgiving

I've always loved Thanksgiving. That's not exactly a revelation, I know. But for me, the holiday is all about the Native Americans. Even as a young boy, I was far more curious what the American Indians were thinking about the Pilgrims during that historic feast than what the Pilgrims were thinking about the Indians. 

After all, the Indians were here first. The Pilgrims were the guests at this dinner, not the other way around.

The point of all this is to remind you that not only is this Thanksgiving week, it's also National Native American Heritage Month. And as we gather with our family and friends to give thanks, it would be nice for us to remember just how big a contribution Native Americans have made to our country. And, specifically, to our military.

According to statistics released this week by the Department of Veterans Affairs:
  • 14,000 American Indians fought in World War I.
  • 44,000 served in World War II, including code talkers from more than 30 tribes.
  • 10,000 served in Korea.
  • More than 80,000 served in Vietnam.
  • And 30,000 serve today in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.

Just a couple of days after the 9/11 terrorist attack, I went with my wife and some friends to a concert at the Viejas Casino near San Diego to see the rock band Chicago. The casino is owned by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians. 

America was still in a collective state of shock over the despicable act of cowardice against our country. But leave it to a stoic, charismatic Native American to put it all in perspective and remind us what's important.

Just before the concert started, one of the tribal leaders walked out on stage, and a big American flag was unfurled. The crowd went wild.

The tribal leader, whose name I have forgotten, stood there for several minutes just trying to gather his emotions. The crowd continued to cheer, and many of us were in tears. 

He then proceeded to give one of the most touching and patriotic speeches I have ever witnessed.

It never ceases to amaze me how much the native Americans I have met in my life love this country. It's a bit surprising given how atrociously their ancestors were treated.

I have never met a person in this country who does not feel some sense of regret for how the American Indians were treated throughout our history. But that has not stopped the American Indian population from proudly serving this country during all our wars.

A few days ago, the White House hosted the fifth annual Tribal Nations Conference, where tribal leaders engaged in government-to-government discussions with President Obama and senior officials from the administration regarding issues affecting Native Americans.

VA Secretary Shinseki addressed tribal leaders during the conference, and shared information about American Indians who have long served the country in every war of the last century. 

Stephanie Birdwell, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is the granddaughter of World War I and World War II veterans and the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran. She writes a poignant blog this week for VA in which she talks about her personal connection to the legacy of bravery and tenacity that Shinseki addressed at the conference. 

"Growing up," she writes, "I observed first-hand the challenges our veterans experience upon returning home from service. I remember my father accepted many late-night phone calls from the men he served with. They all shared experiences in combat that forged permanent bonds and relationships that would see them through not only their time in Vietnam but throughout their lives."

When the opportunity arose to help establish VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations, Birdwell notes, "It opened the door to combine two of my passions: Working collaboratively with tribes to achieve opportunities for Indian people and serving our nation’s heroes. Since then, our office has managed relationships between the VA and tribal governments across the country. We focus on implementing VA’s tribal consultation policy, promoting economic sustainability and facilitating increased access to care and benefits for veterans living in tribal communities."

Birdwell says these native American veterans include Senator and Northern Cheyenne Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal member PFC Charles George – both of whom served in Korea. George was posthumously presented the Medal of Honor; the VA medical center in Asheville, N.C. is named in his honor.

They also include Hopi Specialist Lori Piestewa, a 23-year-old mother of two who, Birdwell writes, was the first Native American woman to die in combat and the first American woman to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It's great to see VA reaching out to our Native Americans. But as I said, I'm a little biased. Most of my heroes in movies were the Indians, not the cowboys. 

What can I say? I'm a patriotic American, but in Kevin Costner's American epic "Dances With Wolves," I, like a lot of you, I suspect, rooted for the Indians, not the cowboys.

So this Thanksgiving, how about let's remember and give thanks to ALL who have served our country, including those who were here first!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

NFL Playoff Update: San Diego Chargers Are Still Alive... Barely

Chargers QB Philip Rivers - Courtesy of San Diego Chargers
Call me crazy - and I know some of you will - but the San Diego Chargers are still in the thick of the hunt for the second Wild Card playoff spot in the AFC. It's a long shot because of the Bolts' remaining schedule, the toughest in the NFL, but it could happen. 

It all starts, and perhaps ends, this weekend. San Diego has to win in Miami on Sunday. 

Here are the teams competing for that second Wild Card as of today:

New York Jets 5–4
Miami Dolphins 4-5
Cleveland Browns 4-5
Baltimore Ravens 4-5
San Diego Chargers 4-5

If the Chargers beat the Dolphins tomorrow, San Diego will of course pass Miami on this list. 

The Cleveland Browns will probably (if not certainly) lose to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. And the Baltimore Ravens could certainly lose to the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Chicago. 

If all that happens, San Diego would be behind only the New York Jets, who will probably win at the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. But that isn't a given, either. Buffalo is a decent team at home.

If these games go as I expect and hope, the Chargers will be tied with or closely trailing only the Jets for the second AFC Wild Card spot by the end of the weekend. And then San Diego has to play the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead. And at Denver.

It's a tough road, and San Diego's defense is giving up far too many yards and points. But with Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers back in Pro Bowl form, this team is capable. Inconsistent, but capable. 

If San Diego loses on Sunday, though, any hope of a playoff bid this season goes from slim to virtually none.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

We Need An Annual, All-Channel Telethon For Our Veterans

Temptations at Homeward Bound Telethon for veterans
Telethons have become a curious American institution. The biggest and most infamous one, of course, was the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, the kitschy, old-school show-biz affair that for five decades raised millions of dollars for muscular disease before Jerry inexplicably walked away in 2011. 

Well, just as Labor Day became synonymous with the Jerry Lewis telethon, I'd like to see Veterans Day become synonymous with a national telethon for veterans. It's a no brainer, right? And it should be broadcast on all of our 1,000-plus channels so we have no choice but to watch it, and support it. It’s the very least we can do for those who have served our country.

The telethon happening later today is a good start. Actors Alan Alda and J0e Mantegna will host Homeward Bound, a live, four-hour national telethon to support American veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Presented by Haven from the Storm and airing live to a nationwide audience on the Military Channel, the telethon will be broadcast from the historic American Legion Hall #43 in Hollywood from 7:00-11:00 PM (ET). 

The first two hours of the telethon will also air on Tribune's PIX11 (New York) from 7 - 9:00 PM ET; WGN (Chicago) from 10:30 PM - 12:30 AM (delayed)(CT); and on KTLA (Los Angeles) from 4 - 6:00 PM (PT). The telethon will be live-streamed on and rebroadcast on the Armed Forces Network on Monday.

Among the celebrities who will be appearing on the telethon tonight are Secretary of State John Kerry, Mark Harmon and the cast of NCIS, Alan Alda, Trace Adkins, Patti Austin, Jason Bateman, James Brolin, Napoleon and Tabitha D'Umo, Dr. Phil McGraw, Bette Midler, Kevin Spacey, Steve Tyrell, Ben Vereen and Henry Winkler. 

The telethon will also feature performances by The American Military Spouses ChoirCactus CrossingUnder The StreetlampGentleman's Rule and The Temptations Revue.

The broadcast will include testimonials and personal stories from veterans and their families who've experienced difficulties as they returned from the battlefronts of WW II, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

These include decorated war veterans Staff Sergeant Ty Carter (2013 Medal of Honor recipient) and Staff Sergeant Kyle Hausman-Stokes (Bronze Medal recipient); US Paralympic Medal Winner Marine LC Brandon Pelletier; actor/Navy SEAL Joel Lambert; Tuskegee Airman Lt. Bob Friend; Army Sergeant Tom Woods, Vietnam Vet Dannis Johnson, and others.

People magazine, for which I worked for many years, is teaming up with Homeward Bound because of the magazine's commitment to providing assistance to men and women who served in the military. A portion of the night's proceeds will go to one of People's charities, Operation Finally Home, which provides custom-built, mortgage free homes to America's heroes and the widows of the fallen who have sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms and our way of life. 

Operation Finally Home brings together corporate sponsors, builder associations, builders, developers, individual contributors, and volunteers to help these veterans and their families transition to the home front by addressing one of their most pressing needs - a home to call their own. (

Other participating charities in this telethon include The American Red Cross, New York Presbyterian Hospital, One Mind 4 Research, and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Here's hoping that tonight’s telethon plants the seed for a much larger annual Veterans Day tradition. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Reno Dispatch Wins Five Press Club Journalism Awards

There are so many talented journalists in my hometown, San Diego, which boasts one of the largest and finest Press Clubs in the nation. I was honored to be in their company this week and to have won eight San Diego Press Club awards at the club's annual gala.

I proudly won three first place awards for my work at Newsweek Daily Beast, including the top award for investigative reporting for my exclusive on the groundbreaking chemical weapons/Gulf War Illness lawsuit in Texas. It's a troubling story that still has not been resolved. It remains an open court case, and I will continue to stay on top of it.

And it's especially gratifying that the national news blog you are now reading, which I launched just a year ago, garnered five writing awards. My wife Gabriela kept telling me, "Jamie, if you build it (the news blog), they will come." As usual, she was right.

Thanks to all of you for being loyal readers of The Reno Dispatch. As long as you keep reading, I promise you I will keep writing.

Jamie Reno
November 1, 2013




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