1st Platoon, C Company, 4th/47th Battalion, 2nd Brigade
Charlie Nelson was minding his own business herding his flock of goats around Dilkon, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation about 40 miles north of Winslow, when in May of 1966 he received that famous “Greeting” from Uncle Sam to serve his country by reporting for duty in the United States Army.
The Navajo Nation has a proud history of serving in the Armed Forces of the United States. They have proved themselves as fierce and dedicated warriors. Just like the Code Talkers, to serve and protect is in their blood, family is very important to the Navajo people, they understand what can happen when you look the other way and neglect the flock, that’s when the coyotes move in.
It is my belief there are three kinds of people in the world. There are the sheep and goats, they account for about 85% of the people. They just want to do their thing and don’t want to interfere with anyone else’s business. They are just too busy living life (grazing). They look up and around once in a while and even if they see some people being terrorized or killed, it’s OK as long as it’s not them.
Then there are the wolves and coyotes, they account for 10% of the people, they prey on the sheep and goats, they are the dictators, (Hitlers, Stalins, Pol Pots, etc.) terrorists, thieves, rapist, child molesters, drug dealers, etc.
Then there are the Charlie Nelsons of the world, the Sheep Dogs. They account for 5% of the people, they are the ones who have to fight the battles to protect the sheep and goats and in doing so, because they have to be fierce and sometimes use force and kill the wolves, even the sheep and goats sometimes fear and distrust them.
Charlie is the quintessential Sheep Dog, and I mean it in a good and positive way. He understood the dangers and was willing to fight and even die if necessary to protect his country and the oppressed. He paid the price trying to make a difference in Vietnam when he was wounded and sent home to heal and convalesce.
As all of Charlie’s army brothers know, he is a man of few words, but I know he is a man great feelings. Charlie was not only a warrior he also had the duty of making sure we all received our mail in Vietnam and mail was our most important bridge to the world. Since Charlie was the mailman he knew everyone in Charlie Company and because of this Charlie has told me how his heart would break when he received mail for one of the guys that paid the ultimate price, he would have to mark the mail in a special way and send it to the Army for processing, this caused him to relive the pain because he not only knew his brothers that were killed but he knew the letter or package was sent before the person who sent it knew of that soldiers death.
Now Charlie takes his flock of goats out to graze in the wide open spaces and he has a lot of quiet time to think. He told me of the times when he was out there all alone and how he thought back to Vietnam and that he has wept and cried. Charlie Nelson was the shortest and probably the smallest man in our unit but in our eyes he is and always has been larger-than-life.
Not long ago I asked Charlie if he would be willing to travel to Illinois and speak at The Old Barn Museum, which has one of the most comprehensive collections of Indian artifacts dating back to prehistoric times to the present, to a group of grammar school children about the Navajo’s way of life. Without batting an eye, he was willing to help. Charlie did two presentations in The Old Barn Museum and he was an instant hit with the kids, their parents and grandparents. They loved him. They could see right through him and they knew this Navajo had a giant heart.
Charlie once told me of an old Indian saying “You go into battle with a stranger and you both come back – you come back as Brothers”. Charlie says all of Charlie Company’s men are his Brothers. Charlie you are correct, the men of Charlie Company are a special band of Brothers and are special in spirit.
Jace Johnston – Thanksgiving Day, 2007