Lodi American Legion to install first American Indian commander

Steve Bojorques is the new commander of Lodi’s American Legion post.

Steve Bojorques has two significant passions — his American Indian heritage and his support for the military.

Bojorques, 44, will be installed tonight as commander of Lodi’s American Legion post. It is believed he will be the first Native American commander in Lodi history.

“It is history in the making,” he said.

But equally important to Bojorques is retaining the military and American Legion traditions. That requires getting younger veterans — from the Vietnam War through the Iraq and Afghan wars — into the fold.

Veterans organizations have had a difficult time attracting members who served in the armed forces after the Korean conflict, but Bojorques wants to change that.

He’s already begun developing a website for Lodi’s American Legion post, and once he gets that done, the post will have a Facebook account as well to attract veterans and keep them informed.

“They will carry the tradition of the American Legion,” Bojorques said of the Legion’s future Facebook page.

Bojorques said he was attracted to the American Legion because of his loyalty to the military and especially to World War II veterans. He joined seven months ago.

“I like the camaraderie, the American spirit,” Bojorques said. “I like the American Legion’s traditions.”

Bojorques enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2000 and served in the 349th Memorial Affairs Squadron at Travis Air Force Base in Solano County. His job was to fly to Dover, Del., whenever a soldier fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan was killed.

Soldiers had to be X-rayed to make sure there were no hidden bombs or weapons planted by terrorists in the victim’s body. Then they had to check for chemicals such as anthrax in the soldier’s body, check the DNA and confirm the victim’s identity through dental records, Bojorques said.

However, he spent 90 percent of his time in autopsy. He averaged inspecting four people a day during a four-month period.

Bojorques said that as gruesome as it was to see dead soldiers, he got used to it.

“I felt it was my duty to take care of them,” he said. “You just learn how to deal with it. I’m from a very spiritual background, so that helped me a lot. I was raised Catholic.”

Lodi Legion Adjutant Martin Jones is looking forward to Bojorques becoming commander and Ryan Dinkel becoming first commander tonight.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Jones said. “Hopefully, with him being younger, he will get some veterans interested in the American Legion. We’re trying to reach out to the veterans and the community, too.”

Jones, a 58-year-old Vietnam veteran, said he hopes Bojorques will work to renew programs the Legion used to sponsor, such as a Boy Scout troop and student oratorical contest.

Born in Stockton, Bojorques said he thought he was full-blooded Mexican until he was 10 years old, when he got a letter from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. He asked his father, who told young Bojorques about his heritage in the Ohlone Tribe.

“I got excited about it,” Bojorques said.

As an adult, Bojorques founded the Red Circle group as a nonprofit cultural organization with Lodi residents Leonard and Tangerine Robles. Red Circle has 16 members, 10 of them from Lodi.

Red Circle members demonstrate their culture at Lodi-area schools and nursing homes, and they participate in Indian events in Sacramento and other locations, Bojorques said.

Jones said he hopes that Bojorques’ heritage will help the Lodi post reach out to veterans from different ethnic groups. There are many people of different ethnic cultures who served in the military, Jones said, but they don’t feel comfortable about joining the Legion. Jones wants to change that.

While Bojorques said it’s a tragedy that American settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries took Indian lands, he wants to blend in with other cultures while preserving Native American culture.

“There has always been a racial problem in America. Racism is a cancer,” Bojorques said. “We have to focus on things we have in common. In my opinion, we’re all broke, and working together, we can keep each other afloat economically.”

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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