85 year old former student has watched history unfold

posted on August 29, 2012

Paul Herman has seen a lot of history in his day.

He was born less than 20 years after the death of Chief Red Cloud, during the Coolidge administration. When he entered Holy Rosary Mission (the former name of Red Cloud Indian School), the school – now nearly 125 years old – had yet to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Paul Herman was born in 1927 to Jake and Alice (Janis) Herman. He was the third of six children. His father, who attended Carlisle Indian School as a boy, was best known for being a professional rodeo clown. He is enshrined in the state’s Rodeo Hall of Fame in Pierre, and is one of the only Native Americans so honored.

In 1935, Mr. Herman entered Holy Rosary as a third grader. He stayed at the school until March of 1943. With WWII in full swing at that point, a great many young men across the nation were postponing their educations to enlist in the military. Mr. Herman joined the Navy, and spent a year training at the naval base in Great Lakes, Illinois.

Despite joining up in the middle of a war, Mr. Herman never was sent overseas to fight. He said, “I joined to see the world, but didn’t even see the ocean.” The war brought tragedy into the Herman household, however, as his brother Jacob Jr. was killed while serving in the Army.

Mr. Herman was honorably discharged in June of 1946, having attained the rank of Seaman First Class. He then spent four years helping out at home. His family, like many other families in the northern part of the reservation, had been kicked off of their land in 1942 in a large land seizure by the U.S. government in order to make room for an aerial gunnery range. Mr. Herman recalled how his brother Jake, who would later be killed in action, took a horse team and wagon on a 36 mile round-trip to retrieve a wood stove for the family.

Like many of the other displaced families, the Hermans could watch as their former land was bombed in Air Force training missions. Even today, much of the land is still retained by the government, and vast swaths of it are littered with bombs and other ordnance, much of it unexploded. After being relocated, the Hermans lived in a canvas tent through the winter, and then Mr. Herman’s father built his family a new log house the next year. He reflected, “I guess we never had an easy life growing up.”

Mr. Herman has fond memories of attending school at Holy Rosary, though, and he has a great deal of appreciation for the school staff. He enjoyed serving as an altar boy, and says that the school is where he learned prayer and discipline. He said, “I think a lot of those old priests and nuns and brothers never get any thanks for coming out here – often from overseas – and working their tails off, all while not getting a dime. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.”

In 1942, when Mr. Herman was in the ninth grade, he traveled with two other boys to New York City to “dance Indian” and raise money for the school. His strongest memory of the month-long trip was going to the top of the Empire State Building (see picture). He said that from there, they could see the SS Normandie, a 1,000 foot ocean liner which had caught fire and capsized in New York Harbor shortly before.

Mr. Herman married his wife Pearl in 1951, and they have been married for 61 years. All of their nine children went to school at Holy Rosary at some point in their educational careers. Of his 110 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many go to – or have attended – Red Cloud.

After a 30-year career working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Mr. Herman retired in 1994. Seven years later, he beat prostate cancer, after receiving a radiation implant at a Seattle hospital. In 2007, he had open-heart surgery. Despite this, Mr. Herman reports that he is still going strong, and that he still drives himself around. He lives in Kyle, SD, not too many miles from where he was born and raised.

Red Cloud salutes Mr. Paul Herman, an individual who has witnessed much history – of the school, the reservation, and the nation – that most of us will only ever read about in history books.