MAHNOMEN, Minn. — It's an incredible, historic military honor for a White Earth family.
Peter Thompson, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and member of the White Earth Nation, will soon be buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery — a first for the tribe.
The White Earth Veterans Association Honor Guard and the veteran's family plan to take a bus to Washington next month for Thompson's June 5 burial at the hallowed veteran's cemetery directly across the Potomac River from the nation's capital.
On Wednesday, May 8, the honor guard led a special blessing and peace ceremony for Thompson, who passed away in January.
Ask anyone on the White Earth Indian Reservation about Thompson and they probably knew him.
"He was quite the guy, a person who teased a lot, joked around," said brother-in-law Raymond Auginaush.
Thompson was a prankster, hard worker and veteran with six Purple Hearts as well as three Bronze Stars. A young boy from the reservation, Thompson joined the Army and went to Vietnam at the age of 17.
White Earth honor guard member Robert Durant said Thompson had a strong sense of duty.
"He was so proud of what he had done and he said he was doing this because it was his job . . . he really cared about serving his country," Durant said.
Thompson was injured six times serving two tours as a teenager in Vietnam, surviving wounds from enemy gunfire, tank explosions and grenade blasts.
"He very seldom talked about what happened over there, but you could tell, deep down, he cared about the men he served with and what was going on," Auginaush said.
After the war, Thompson returned home and became active in veterans groups.
He was one of just a few in the nation to receive the much-honored War Bonnet, adorned with six red-tipped white feathers, for the six Purple Hearts. The War Bonnet will make the trip to Arlington in a few weeks, along with the White Earth Honor guard, for a final salute to the soldier.
"I think what we have here is an opportunity to show the honor and pride and respect he deserves since his last wish was to be buried at Arlington," Durant said.
Thompson's wife, Evelyn, her daughters and grandchildren are raising money to make the bus trip to Arlington next month. It's a resting place Thompson often mentioned to his family.
"He knew the honor of being out there and he knew deep in his heart . . . that the best are buried out there, even though he would never come right out and say it," his wife said.
Thompson's family is selling fry bread tacos in Mahnomen Saturday to raise money for the bus ride, and a special account has been set up at the First National Bank in Bagley to hold the funds.