Army Pfc. Sheldon Hawk Eagle

Army Pfc. Sheldon Hawk Eagle of Grand Forks, N.D., assigned to the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; killed Nov. 15 when two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters crashed in Mosul, Iraq.

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. — With the beat of drums, the chant of traditional songs and a march through town, members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe paid tribute on Nov. 24 to a hometown soldier who was killed in Iraq.

More than 1,000 people gathered in the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte high school gymnasium to honor Pfc. Sheldon Hawk Eagle, 21, who was killed Nov. 15 when two Army helicopters collided in Iraq.

Another South Dakota soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Scott Saboe of Willow Lake, also was killed in the same crash. Two other South Dakota soldiers died earlier this year in Iraq.

Hawk Eagle grew up in Eagle Butte but enlisted in the Army at Grand Forks, N.D. His parents are dead but Hawk Eagle still has many friends and relatives in Eagle Butte, where he graduated from high school in 2001.

Monday’s memorial tribute was the first of two days to honor the fallen soldier. His funeral was scheduled for Tuesday morning in Eagle Butte and he was to be buried later in the day at Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis.

A second cousin, Spc. Gary Mound, flew back from Korea to attend the funeral. Many members of the family for several generations have served in the U.S. military, he said.

“I’m glad we could all get together and do this for him, but I wish we didn’t have to because I wish he was here,” Mound said.

Hawk Eagle’s sister, Frankie Hawk Eagle of Grand Forks, N.D., sobbed and leaned on relatives for support as she took a yellow ribbon bearing her brother’s name from a tree outside the gymnasium. A cloud of red, white and blue balloons was released and flew away.

Soldier killed in Iraq loved “everything” about the Army

To his friends in the Army, he was known as Sheldon Hawk Eagle.

To his family and fellow tribe members, the 21-year Army private killed in Iraq was also remembered with a proud Lakota name: Wanbli Ohitika — Brave Eagle.

A member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, he was one of 17 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division killed last November in a collision of two helicopters in Mosul, Iraq.

Hawk Eagle could trace his bloodline to two great Indian chiefs: Crazy Horse on his father’s side, and Sitting Bill on his mother’s, according to his aunt, Barbara Strikes Enemy Turner.

Her nephew was quiet and loyal, a mature young man who gave every decision careful thought, says Turner, who helped raise him after his parents died. “He didn’t jump into anything,” she recalls. “He was very meticulous and organized.”

Hawk Eagle was a talented artist who loved to draw and paint, and a classic car buff who knew every model he saw on the road. Hawk Eagle also adored kids and talked about a career in child psychology, looking to the Army to pay for college. But the military turned out to be such a good fit, his aunt says, he thought it might be his life.

“He loved it and everything about it,” she says. “He said, ’This is where I need to be right now.’ “

Other American Indian troops have died in Iraq, including Spc. Lori Piestewa, a Hopi believed to be the first American Indian woman killed while fighting for the U.S. military.

Friends and family mourned and celebrated Hawk Eagle’s life in two days of ceremonies that featured tribal drums, Lakota songs and prayers, an overnight vigil and, his aunt says, the presentation of a red feather — akin to a Purple Heart.

A procession led by a riderless horse covered with a red, white and blue blanket and a wagon carrying the flag-draped coffin made its way through the streets of Eagle Butte, S.D. Hawk Eagle’s sister, Frankie, removed her brother’s yellow ribbon from a tree outside the high school gymnasium, where more than 1,000 people gathered.

Hawk Eagle’s funeral was held at sunrise. A cortege then made the 150-mile journey to the Black Hills National Cemetery, where a Black Hawk helicopter flew overhead in tribute.

“The sun was shining. That was good,” his aunt says. “But it was a hard day. It was so hard.”

— Associated Press

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