Four years ago this Memorial Day, his family and friends bid farewell to an American hero. Until many years after World War II had ended, they’d had no idea of the service Jerry ClasChee Begay, Sr. performed for his country. Jerry didn’t talk much about it. He said, “They call us heroes, but the real heroes are the ones who didn’t come back.”Jerry Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation, was born December 8, 1924 in Sheep Springs, New Mexico.
Like other Indian children of that time, he was sent to boarding schools to be educated. He was forbidden to speak his native language and punished if he did. His daughter, Priscilla Coutu, said her father was a sophomore at Fort Wingate High School when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. People feared that the mainland would be next. Japanese troops had already landed in the Aleutians. Jerry and his schoolmates were eager to do what they could to protect the United States.