I don’t know where or when I first heard of this term,”A Good Day to Die.” Sometimes the term starts out with the word “Today”. When my father was in the Army during World War II, he told me many native Americans would use the term before going into battle. I once heard it used in the movie “Little Big Man.” Chief Dan George, who was referred to as grandfather, often would make the comment throughout the movie.
The phrase is used in the context of a warriors desire to die an honorable and brave death. When a warrior knew that his usefulness was over, it was his way saying this is the reward I seek for serving the people so well.
During World War II, Lee (Standing Bear) Moore migrated with many native Americans to the west coast. There they would seek out work to help themselves as well as the war effort. While he was there, he said that he discovered little honor in the many gang related deaths that he saw occur. At the age of 15, he witnessed many deaths that were done senselessly. Not only was the life of the victim finished but, also that of the person taking it.
Standing Bear became a Platoon Sergeant during the Vietnam War. Being in many firefights, he realized that he was just a short breath away from death himself. It was during this time that he became acquainted with death on a personal basis. As a matter of sanity and self-preservation, he was forced to become a friend of death.
On May 13, 1968, the hill that he was defending was over run by two Vietnamese regiments. Nearly 100 defenders were slaughtered. Many were taken prisoner. The events of that day are well documented. Lee during the course of the battle, was wounded three times. He stopped an enemy attack with a M-79 grenade launcher. He carried two bags, each weighing over 50 pounds, of grenades to the front while under fire. On one of the following nights he used the grenade launcher to hold off attacking Vietnamese. Moore believes that he was successful because of his knowledge of the terrain . He also had dark skin and long dark hair which at times made to appear as a Vietnamese soldier. One other point of note. During this entire period, Moore went without shoes on. At the end of the third long day, Standing Bear wandered alone on top of the mountain. He had survived the start of the Tet Offensive. He yelled out in a loud voice, “Take me. Here I am.” But nobody did. Strangely enough the enemy let him live. It was NOT a good day to die. The memory of the day haunts his dreams to this present day.
Through the years, he lost many friends to death. Some he lost by illness and some accident and old age. The term “Today is a Good day to Die” eluded him. That is until he started getting ill in his older age. He started battling heart and blood diseases. At that time he realized the time and date is to be determined by the creator. His idea of the term had changed. It doesn’t matter if you are brave or honorable. Instead it acknowledges the way of the creator. It means that we are ready in mind and spirit to move on to our next destination.
Lee (Standing Bear) Moore was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze star, and the Purple Heart 38 years after that battle in 1968. He received the awards on September 6, 2006. Major General John Chastain presented the awards at the Hot Springs Village in Arkansas. Lee said that the true hero’s of that day gave their lives for others. It just so happened that he survived.
It doesn’t matter what religion you are or if you even believe in religion. It is something that we will all face in our own time. Native Americans used this as a way to glorify their existence. They used the term to justify that they made a difference while they were here. It is part of the path of the native American. It is also a part of our path.