Lakota chief, Vietnam veteran who died of COVID-19 mourned in Schaumburg

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (WLS) -- A Vietnam veteran and Native American was remembered Wednesday night in northwest suburban Schaumburg. His death is the latest reminder that the battle against COVID-19 is not over.

Smoke rising from the ashes of a memorial fire is making way for Angel Salas.

"That's to open up the passageway for him, for our communication to the creator to help him with that next journey, wherever he is going," said Joe Podlasek, a friend of Salas and CEO of Trickster Cultural Center.

The centuries-old tradition is a Native American rite of passage, a method of mourning.

"We offer prayer, we offer tobacco, we offer different elements," Podlasek said. "It's just about celebrating his life like we would if we were sitting there with him."

Angel Salas - a chief in the Lakota tribe, a Vietnam army veteran, and a father of nine children - lived a life worth celebrating.

"He was my teacher, my father, my everything," said Michael Salas, his son.

More than a year into the pandemic, Salas contracted COVID-19. After a month-long stay in the hospital, the patriarch insisted it was time.

"By hook or crook my father was going to come home to die. That's what he wanted," Michael Salas said.

"I never knew this much pain existed," said Gabriel Salas, his son.

This fire started burning after Salas passed and will burn for four days around the clock representing Salas' journey to the afterlife, part of a Native American tradition his family says Salas so proudly embodied.

"He was not afraid of crossing over and whatever that journey takes him to now," his son said. "Sometimes I think COVID was the ticket that got him home, not what killed him, what got him home."

And according to tradition, Angel Salas will be welcomed home at sunset Friday.
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