For the first time in nearly 100 years, and as part of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration, the public will be able to walk on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza and lay flowers in front of the Tomb on Nov. 9 and 10, 2021.
The flower ceremony will start at 8 a.m. Nov. 9 with representatives from the Crow Nation placing flowers at the Tomb. They will recite a prayer in honor of Chief Plenty Coups, who served as a scout for the U.S. Army.
Invited by President Warren Harding, Chief Plenty Coups was the sole representative of Native Americans for the dedication of the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier in 1921. He gave a short speech in his native tongue in honor of the soldier and the occasion. He placed his war-bonnet and coup stick upon the tomb, which are preserved in a display case in Arlington.
Members of the Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Nov. 9. (Photo courtesy RaeAnna Victor)
Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard
For the 100th anniversary of the Tomb, the Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard is traveling from Montana to Arlington National Cemetery. One of the members of the Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard is Marine Veteran Elsworth Goes Ahead. Enlisting at 18 and serving as a combat engineer, he served in Okinawa, Korea and Camp Pendleton in California during his time in service.
Goes Ahead said there will be eight honor guard members, with six carrying flags. This includes a U.S. flag; a single flag with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard symbols; a Crow Nation travel flag; a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier flag; a Montana flag; and the Chief Plenty Coups flag. The Chief Plenty Coups flag contains the spelling “Plenty-Coos,” as the name was originally misspelled.
Also during the wreath laying, the honor guard will perform a traditional smudging ceremony. The members use cedar to smudge, cleanse and purify themselves and the things around them, Goes Ahead explained.
“The smoke from the smudging is a way of lifting our prayers and good thoughts up to our Creator,” he said.
Learning about Native American service
Goes Ahead said he hopes those attending will ask questions and learn about the significant number of Native Americans who served the nation, following Chief Plenty Coups’ example.
“Chief Plenty Coups prayed for peace for both races,” he said. “He had a very high level of respect for the warriors laid to rest in Arlington. I hope that others learn the role that Natives have played and still play in the Armed Forces. From that early time, the Native people have enlisted, joined and fought for this country. I hope that strengthens our bond with non-Natives.”
Elsworth Goes Ahead is carrying on a family tradition with the event. Vincent Goes Ahead Sr. was one of the founders of the Chief Plenty Coup Honor Guard, along with John Bulltail, Sylvester Cartie Goes Ahead, Philip Beaumont Sr., Clem Goes Ahead and Ben Pease. He said following in the footsteps of his ancestors is humbling.
“It is overwhelming in the sense that my patriotism in my service to this country and to the U.S. flag itself means so much to me,” he said. “To know I’ll be in the presence of all these fallen warriors, that will be an honor. My love and devotion to this country is overwhelming.”
To learn more, view the Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Nonprofit-Organization/Chief-Plenty-Coups-Honor-Guard-100798398941183/.
For information about VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations, visit https://www.va.gov/tribalgovernment/.
To read more about Native American Veterans, visit https://blogs.va.gov/VAntage/?s=native+american.
Interested in attending in person?
(Arlington National Cemetery information used for this story.)