Otherwise Occupied / The Story of the Real Geronimo

Harlyn Geronimo, the great-grandson of the legendary Apache freedom fighter, is demanding an apology from Barack Obama for naming the operation to kill bin Laden after his great-grandfather.

When the American army and intelligence officers who gave the code name Geronimo to Osama bin Laden (or the mission to kill him ) they were not thinking about Francis de Geronimo, who was born in the 17th century, preached in Naples, and was declared a saint in 1839.

Spanish-Mexican settlers and soldiers were thinking of the (relatively new ) saint whom they prayed to for salvation. They feared for their lives because of the Apache fighter by the name of Goyahkla ("the one who yawns" ) who, in 1852 together with his comrades, attacked a Mexican army camp - that same unit which two years earlier had murdered dozens of Apache women and children, including "The Yawner"'s mother, wife and three of his small children. Over the years, his grief turned into a terrible hatred, people later wrote about him.

Apache warrior Geronimo

Somehow the name of the saint stuck to him, at least according to literature about the Apache warrior (or hero or terrorist ), who was born some time before 1830 and lived his first 15 years with his extended family in relative quiet, before the white migration wronged them.

According to another version, the fearful Mexicans called out for help to St. Jerome (who translated the New Testament into Latin and died in Bethlehem in the fifth century ).

Paratroopers shouted 'Geronimo'

Be that as it may, it is said that during World War II, American paratroopers shouted "Geronimo" when they jumped from the planes. And they weren't referring to a Catholic saint either. They were thinking about the Apache son who was born in an area that later became the border between Arizona and Mexico - an area where his people fought for generations, and alternately traded, with the Spaniards.

In the 1850s and 1860s, Geronimo devoted his life to launching raids (from which he earning a living ), taking revenge and wandering. He married two women, one of whom was murdered by white soldiers, along with their son.

From the 1870s until the mid 1880s, he resisted the fate that the American government had designated for the first people - expulsion (which claimed numerous lives ), and concentration in reservations - isolated and distant enclaves, usually in arid areas without access to water and fertile soil.

Renegades or freedom fighters

People like him were called "renegades" or "hostiles" by the authorities. We will call them freedom fighters. The Arizona reservation where the Apaches from various areas were concentrated was called San Carlos. Geronimo stayed in the reservation, fled with his fighters, eventually surrendered, was taken into custody, escaped again, and once more gave himself up. He moved between Arizona and Mexico with a group of his fighters. And, yes, sometimes they would also kill civilian settlers."

'Every man's hand was against us'

"We were reckless with our lives," he said in his old age,"because we felt that every man's hand was raised against us. If we returned to the reservation we would be put in prison and killed; If we stayed in Mexico they could continue to send soldiers to fight us; so we gave no quarter to anyone and asked no favors".

One general resigned over his failure to prevail over Geronimo and get him back into the reservation. General Nelson Miles, who captured him in 1886, described Geronimo as "one of the brightest, most resolute determined-looking men that I have ever encountered."

Miles sent 5,000 soldiers and 500 native trackers to catch Geronimo, who had 20 fighters with him. But it was not the battle that did him in. A messenger from Miles (who was helped by two native scouts- fellow indigenous people understood their need to exit the suffocating reservations - informed him that the San Carlos reservation had been disbanded and all its residents had been taken into custody in Florida.

In other words, their consent to live in the reservation and their opposition to Geronimo's chosen path had not saved them from a second expulsion.

Surrender and imprisonment

"If you surrender, we will allow you to see them," they promised him and his comrades. The surrender ceremony was held on September 4. He and his fighters were taken to the ceremony in a cattle truck and then to Florida where they were imprisoned on the deserted island of Santa Rosa. But the promise was not kept, and he was not allowed to see his family. The women and children of his extended family were expelled 500 kilometers away. Geronimo was kept in solitary confinement for two years. Then he and his colleagues were transferred to an Alabama jail where they were permitted to meet relatives, prisoners like them, for the first time. The jailed Apaches had to work at hard labor. They fell ill with pneumonia and tuberculosis and many of them went into prolonged depressions. During the first eight months of their imprisonment, 19 of the 352 Apaches died.

With the intervention of some bleeding heart liberals, they were transferred in 1894 to less severe conditions in the south of Oklahoma. Geronimo died there of pneumonia in 1909.

But he was remembered as the man who could not be caught, as one of his nephews and a comrade in arms said of him: "Anyway, who can capture the wind?"

Slander of Native Americans

On May 5, a few days after Osama bin Laden was killed, Harlyn Geronimo, the great-grandson of The Yawner, sent a statement in his name and that of several other descendants, to the American Senate.

"Obviously to equate Geronimo with Osama Bin Laden is an unpardonable slander of Native America and its most famous leader in history," he wrote. "As the son of a grandson of Geronimo, who as a U.S. soldier fought at Omaha Beach on D Day and across West Europe to the Rhine in World War II, and having myself served two tours of duty in Vietnam during that war, I must respectfully request from the President, our Commander-in-Chief, or his Secretary at the Department of Defense, a full explanation of how this disgraceful use of my great- grandfather's name occurred, a full apology for the grievous insult after all that Native Americans have suffered and the expungement from all the records of the U.S. government this use of the name Geronimo."