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Military Committee Rejects Resolution Urging Rescinding Wounded Knee Medals Of Honor

Charles Michael Ray

A South Dakota Senate committee is rejecting a resolution urging Congress to rescind the medals of honor given to soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee Massacre.

The sponsor of the resolution says senators missed their chance to make history by saying what happened at Wounded Knee was not okay.

On December 29, 1890, around 470 soldiers surrounded Chief Big Foot leading his people to the Red Cloud Agency in Pine Ridge.

A shot rang out, and thus began one of the deadliest massacres in United States history. It happened on South Dakota soil. Estimates range of 150 to 300 Lakota elders, women and children were killed.

Republican State Senator Jim Bolin is a former history teacher. He opposed the resolution, which came up in a Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. He says the decision to rescind medals of honor given to soldiers who participated in the massacre is a matter best left at the federal level.

“None of these people who were involved in these horrible, terrible, despicable acts were residents of South Dakota,” Bolin says. “None of the orders that were given at any time—to the best of my knowledge—ever came from anyone who was an official of the South Dakota state government, which at that time was only one year old. We had only been a state for one year.”

Of those nearly 470 US soldiers, 20 were given medals of honor. By contrast, 27 medals of honor were awarded to marines out of the 70,000 sent to Iwo Jima during World War Two.

Democratic State Senator Troy Heinert brought the resolution. He’s Sicangu Lakota from Mission and says a senate resolution is reserved for petitioning the state’s federal delegation.

“To read some of the accounts of the people who were there—both Indian and non-Indian—they all said what happened was terrible,” Heinert says. “What I don’t understand is the congress awarded congressional medals of honor for those acts and we aren’t brave enough to say, ‘We shouldn’t have.’ That would go a long ways.”

Heinert says rescinding those medals would go a long way in helping decedents of Wounded Knee survivors heal.