The Yazzie brothers, birth of a tradition

The Yazzie brothers, birth of a tradition

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – When Lawrence Nahno Yazzie stands on the parade field for the U.S. Air Force Academy commencement exercises May 31, he will be completing the start of something big.

At ceremony’s end, Lawrence will be the first of three brothers to fling his regulation “cover” high into the air.

No doubt the newly commissioned second lieutenant won’t need much practice with the hat. Yazzie made a name for himself at the academy on another field of endeavor. He lettered four straight years as a varsity basketball player at the Division One school.

Lawrence is followed by brother, Lamoni, a junior next year, and youngest brother , Shawn, who enters the academy this summer.

“Lamoni and Shawn have game too,” said big brother Lawrence. Lamoni lettered in basketball at the academy as a sophomore this past year. Shawn, a starter his freshman year in high school, recently traveled with the Arizona Stars all-star team and will also play for Air Force.

All three were recruited by the academy to play basketball.

As if that weren’t enough, on May 6 older sister Dawn graduated from Cameron University in Lawton, Okla., with a bachelor of science degree in accounting.

Meanwhile, Shawn will graduate from Kayenta High School in Monument Valley, Ariz., the day Lawrence graduates in Colorado Springs. Goal setting and discipline are in the Yazzie blood.

“On the reservation, family time was in the morning. Father would have us boys up early to run and begin our day with prayers. Church was held traditionally in a sweat lodge, tipis and hogans. Faith was, and is, essential,” Lawrence said.

A strong tradition of military service runs deep in the family history too. The brother’s paternal grandfather, Eddie Chee Yazzie, joined the Army during World War II. He left to fight in Africa and throughout southern Europe at the age of 17. Their maternal grandfather, Walter Nahno-Kerchee, a well-respected elder among the Commanches, was in the Navy during WWII, and saw action aboard the USS Barnes. He also went to fight at 17.

Besides the fact the boys’ father, Larry Kee Yazzie, served as an officer in the Army for several years, they also have several uncles who fought in Vietnam. Still, the Yazzie brothers are quick to give credit to the women in their family.

“The history of our people – the greatest beauty of all creation – and the heart of our great nation lies in our women. For our grandmothers, mothers and older sisters, we give thanks for our lives, your faith and love,” Lawrence writes.

The brother’s father is Navajo, of the Bitterwater Clan, and their mother, Sunny Jean Knox, is Commanche. With their sister, their childhoods were spent growing up alternately in Lawton, Okla., and on the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. Early on, all three boys played basketball – extremely well.

“Growing up we dreamed of a lot of things,” Lawrence said. “Our mother expected a lot from of us, and insisted on our potential. Going to college and playing Division I basketball together was our dream. We always imagined ourselves playing together, from the playgrounds of Lawton to the dirt courts of Tuba City.”

Asked how three brothers wound up at the academy, Shawn explained, “Just like in everything … Lawrence led the way, and us younger boys have followed. Still, even at the academy, the boys will play to their particular strengths. After graduation, Lawrence plans to attend Law School at Arizona State University. Lamoni is majoring in civil engineering, and Shawn has decided to major in management with a minor in philosophy.

He has other ideas too. “The biggest thing I want is to be a teacher. Teaching the younger generation on the reservation has always been a dream. I want to show them that anything is possible.”

Examples of the worth of hard work were present early on, said middle brother, Lamoni. “Growing up in Lawton was hard … Our mother was working two part-time jobs, going to school, and raising four kids. We looked to each other for support. We managed to make the pain of reality fade in the joy of being with each other.