TRAVERSE CITY — Many millions of men and women answered the call of duty to serve the U.S. military during World War II, according to National World War II museum figures.
Traverse City resident Linda Woods said taking care of her eagle staff is like a call to service. Now, she's taken up an invitation to bring her eagle staff to ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day — the June 6, 1944, invasion at Normandy.
She's a Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians citizen and the caretaker for Mashkawiz Ode Ogitchidaa Kwe, as her eagle staff is named. That's Odawa for "Strong Heart Warrior Woman," and she calls her Migizi for short — an eagle staff is not an object, so Migizi is a "she," Woods explained.
Migizi is primarily for women veterans, but she also belongs to the community wherever Woods is, Woods said. She hopes to bring healing having brought the eagle staff to France, and to honor the memories of soldiers buried there, especially those buried on foreign soil.
Woods will bring Migizi to a massive, days-long gathering where she'll be one of six to bring an eagle staff to one event, Joe Podlasek said. He's the organizer for the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans in Wheaton, Illinois, and invited Woods to take part after meeting her at another veterans event in Michigan.
Podlasek also worked to get Native American veterans to the D-Day anniversary ceremonies, and Wednesday is a day for honoring their contribution to liberating France, he said.
An itinerary given to Woods shows days in Normandy packed with events and ceremonies.
Woods plans to stay with Charles Shay while she's in France, she said before she left. Shay's a Native American World War II veteran, serving as an Army medic on the beach at D-Day.
Woods will head to the beach herself to say prayers there for a long list of names of World War II veterans. Many were on those shores that day, and the list includes the name of a German soldier who died.
That German soldier's daughter approached Woods — with some fear — to add her father's name to the list and started crying when Woods agreed, she said.
War is hell and pits people against one another, Woods said. It's time to set that aside, she added.
"So if we're celebrating, let's celebrate peace, let's celebrate the reconciliation, let's heal our hearts," she said.
Woods became Migizi's caretaker after a friend asked her accept a female eagle who died during a blizzard in February 2008 near Cheboygan. She's the first woman she knows of in the country to create an eagle staff, she said.
Eagles have special cultural significance, acting as both carriers of prayers to the Creator and as warriors, Woods said.
"And we learned in the military that if someone falls, we always bring them home," she said.
Migizi has more than 50 feathers hanging from her when she's in spirit, each one for a different reason — one is from a mother who lost a son to an opioid overdose, Woods said. Migizi's first feather is for women veterans who struggled while serving in the military, Woods added.
Eagle staffs represent a flag that predates the stars and stripes, and Native American veterans served under both, Podlasek said. They do so at per-capita rates that typically overshadow any other ethic group in the U.S., he said.
Department of Defense statistics show more than 44,000 Native Americans served in the U.S. military from 1941-45, out of a population estimated at less than 350,000 at the time.
Native Americans also served at high rates during the Vietnam War, when Woods was in the U.S. Air Force. She served for four years starting in 1962 and lived in California for a long stretch before returning to northwest Michigan in 1990, as previously reported.
Woods worked as an addiction counselor, drawing on her own history of alcohol abuse to help others get sober as she did. She retired in 2008 as the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians' substance abuse director.
Carrying an eagle staff typically was a role reserved only for men who served in the military, Podlasek said.
Now, women serve in war zones donning combat dress, helmets and body armor — and toting rifles.
"They have the right to carry (eagle staffs) too, as long as they learn the cultural aspects tied to it, and the roles and responsibilities," Podlasek said.
That's not an easy task, Podlasek said — Woods said she has gotten plenty of help to learn the traditions, as even wrapping the ends of each feather must be done in a certain way.
Woods' life totally changed in 2011 when she agreed to accept the eagle, she said. No longer is she the "sweet little old grandma" spending all her time at home, she said.
"So I've been called into service again to serve the community wherever, and this time it's for the healing of the people," she said.
See more on the 75th anniversary of D-Day in tomorrow's Record-Eagle.