Study Notes - Native Americans and the U.S. Military
 
 
Native Americans have the highest percentage serving in the United States military than any other ethnic group in the US.1  They have served with distinction for over two hundred years from General George Washington during the Revolutionary War to today’s war in Iraq.  The warrior spirit, courage, and determination that made them a formidable enemy made them a strong ally when they chose to fight alongside other Americans.  At the end of the twentieth century, there were 190,000 Native American veterans.

Many Native Americans have also distinguished themselves in service to the United States. The Congressional Medal of Honor is given for military heroism “above and beyond the call of duty.”  Five Native Americans were awarded this honor during the Twentieth Century: Jack C. Montgomery (Cherokee), Ernest Childers (Creek), Van Barfoot (Choctow), Mitchell Red Cloud, Jr. (Winnebago), and Charles George (Cherokee).  Twelve Native Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Nineteenth Century:  Alchesay, Blanquet, Chiquito, Co-Rex-Te-Chod-Ish, Elsatsoosu, Jim, Kelsay, Kosoha, Machol, Nannasaddie, Nantaje, and Rowdy.

Because none of the treaties ever made with the Indians has been kept by the United States government, people may wonder why Native Americans would choose to fight for a nation that has treated them in such a dishonorable way.  Yet Native Americans consider themselves as part of their tribe AND part of America, perhaps because of the following qualities prized by their culture:
 
Strength – physical, mental, and spiritual toughness
Honor – recognition by family, friends, and the community
Pride – a sense of accomplishment
Devotion – survival of their people, their culture, their homeland
Wisdom – survival skills and training.2

Revolutionary
War
During the Revolutionary War, some Native American tribes served with the colonists and others with the British who promised to stop expansion of the settlers.  Henry Knox (Secretary of War) in public stated that the Indians possessed their land by prior possession while in private felt that the government needed a plan to gradually acquire Indian land.  This duplicity of thinking lead to a congressional policy (1783-4) which stated that since the Indians had joined the British forces against the United States they forfeited rights to land within the United States.  They could be compelled to move to Canada or to land west of the Mississippi River.
 
War of 1812
During the War of 1812, Native Americans fought with American forces as well as with British troops.  They were looking for a way to stop the growth and development of their homeland as settlers continued to move into their homeland.
 
Civil War
Known for their skill as trackers, the Union Army was quick to enlist Indians.  Initially, three units were created to secure the Indian Territory.  Later, they were recruited throughout all northern states acting as scouts.  They knew how to use the terrain to advantage in battle.  They were skilled at locating and reporting on the enemy’s position and troop strength without compromising their comrades.  The Confederacy also recruited Indians to fulfill the same job for their side.
Lt. Col. Ely Parker, a Tonawanda Seneca chief, was a trained engineer who served as a Union officer.  He became President Ulysses S. Grant’s military secretary and the first Indian to be appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
 
Spanish American War
Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders recruited Native Americans and they went to Cuba during the Spanish American War in 1898.  When General John J. Pershing went to Mexico after Poncho Villa during the early 20th century, he had Native American scouts as part of his troops.
Four Native American Catholic Sisters from South Dakota worked as nurses for the War Department during the Spanish American War (1898). The sisters were originally assigned to a military hospital at Jacksonville, Florida, but were then transferred to Havana, Cuba.
 
WWI
Although they were not yet citizens (Citizenship Act, 1924), more than 12,000 Native Americans volunteered to serve during WWI.  Four men from the 142nd Infantry of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard were awarded France’s Croix de Guerre and others were awarded the Church War Cross for courage.  Toward the end of WWI, eight Choctow Indians in the same unit took over field communications and, although surrounded by the German army, were able to send tactical messages in their native language.  This is code-talking before the famous Navajo Code-Talkers.
Fourteen Native American women served as members of the Army Nurse Corp, two of them overseas.
 
WWII
After being granted citizenship, Native Americans were eligible for the draft but instead enlisted for military duty in record numbers.  More than 44,500 served in the European and Pacific arenas, “a greater per-capita rate than any other ethnic group."3  Had it not been for the Navajo Code Talkers, the Pacific war may have taken much longer to win, or had a different outcome.  Secure communications is critical to sharing the strategic location of individual combat units as they move through enemy territory.  Many Japanese commanders spoke fluent English and could pretend to be American allies giving false information leading to chaos and confusion if not outright causalities.  Artillery could be directed to shell their own troops.  However, the U.S. Marines had a number of Navajo soldiers.  By using the Navajo language to transmit sensitive strategic plans, troop strength, defensive coordination, and other information, the military plans remain secret.  More than 400 Code Talkers were deployed throughout the Pacific from Guadalcanal to Okinawa giving the Marines the advantage they needed.  The Japanese could no longer intercept communications.  In the European Theater, seventeen Comanches code-talkers were part of the Army Signal Corps and saw brutal action.  “U.S. servicemen were fortunate that the attempt to replace the Navajo language with English did not succeed.  Many of them owe their lives to those Navajos who used their language to fight for the United States.4  Here is a sample of the code system:
 


 
English Word Navaho Word Meaning
Corps Din-neh-ih Clan
Switchboard Ya-ih-e-tih-ih Central
Dive Bomber Gini Chicken Hawk
Torpedo Plane Tas-chizzie Swallow
Observation Plane Me-as-jah Owl
Fighter Plane Da-he-tih-hi Humming Bird
Bomber Jay-sho Buzzard
Alaska Beh-hga With-Winter
America Ne-he-Mah Our Mother
Australia Cha-yes-desi Rolled Hat
Germany Besh-be-cha-he Iron Hat
Philippines Ke-yah-da-na-lhe Floating Land
 
One of the six soldiers in the most recognizable photo from WWII, raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, is Ira Hamilton Hayes.  Hayes, a full blood Pima Indian, enlisted in the U.S. Marines and was a dedicated soldier.  He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Nearly 800 Native American women served during WWII as medical or technical support staff.
 
Korean War
Experienced veterans from WWII and new recruits accepted the call to fight communist aggression in Korea.  It is estimated that 10,000-15,000 Native Americans served. During the 50s and 60s fewer women enlisted in the military.  The military began a vigorous recruitment campaign during the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War to increase the female troops including Native American women.
 
Vietnam War
More than 50,000 Native Americans (ninety percent volunteers) served in the Vietnam War.
 
Gulf War
 Approximately 3,000 Native American served during Operation Desert Storm.
 
Iraq War and Afghanistan
There are not yet any statistics about the number of Native American troops who are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In should be noted that soldier causalities are not only men, but women too.  The first female soldier killed in Iraq was Hopi Indian Lori Piestewa.  She is believed to be the first Native American woman to die in combat for her country.  Piestewa died of injuries sustained when her convoy was attacked in 2003.  Piestewa and five others are featured in “Voices,” a new exhibit at the Women’s Memorial highlighting and honoring Native American women warriors who have served their country.
 


Bibliography
 
The Sixty Years War for the Great Lakes, 1754-1814  Edited by David Curtis Skaggs and Larry L. Nelson  Michigan State University Press  East Lansing, MI  2001 Chapter “Forgotten Allies: The Loyal Shawnees and the War of 1812”  R. David Edmunds  Pages 337-351
 
20th Century Warriors: Native American Participation in the United States Military Prepared for the Department of Defense  By CEHP Inc., Washington, D.C. in Partnership with Native American Advisors  Roger Bucholz, Lakota; William Fields, Cherokee; Ursula P. Roach, Hopi.  1996
 
Navajo Code Talkers.  Nathan Aaseng  Walker and Company  New York  1992
 
The American Military Tradition from Colonial Times to the Present  Second Edition Edited by John M. Carroll and Colin F. Baxter  Rownab & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.  Lantham, MD  2007
 
The American Revolution Nationhood Achieved (1763-1788)  Harry M. Ward, University of Richmond  St. Martin’s Press  New York, NY  1995
 
The French And Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America  Walter R. Borneman  HarperCollins Publishers  New York  2006
 
Internet References
 
http://www.authorstream.com/presentation/tarzen-9401-Native-American-Warriors-Activists1- -Sketch-John-Mix-Stanley-1853-Glenbow-Museum-native-american-warriors-and-activists1-ppt-powerpoint/ 9/7/07
 
20th Century Warriors: Native American Participation in the United States Military http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/nativeamerican01/warrior.html
 
Native American Women Veterans http://www.americanindians.com/WomenVeterans.htm
 
Native Warriors http://www.medalofhonor.com/NativeWarriors.htm
 
American Forces Press Service News Articles: Native American Women’s Exhibit Opens at Women’s Memorial by Rudi Williams  Arlington, VA 5/27/03  http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=28941
 
Transmitting Messages in Choctow
http://www.army.mil/cmh/topics/natam/wwi-choc.htm
 
“Semper Fidelis, Code Talkers” 
http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2001/winter/navajo-code-talkers.html
 
American Indian Medal od Honor Winners
http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq61-3.htm
 
Indians in the War 1945: http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/indians.htm
 
http://www.utexas.edu/courses/wilson/ant326/outlines/revolutionary.html

1. Finnicum, Brenda.  The Native Voice.  4/30/03.  http://www.native-voice.com  9/7/07
2. From www.usgs.gov/indian/caption/2006NativeAmericanPoster.html
3. http://www.authorstream.com/presentation/tarzen-9401-Native-American-Warriors-Activists1- -Sketch-John-Mix-Stanley-1853-Glenbow-Museum-native-american-warriors-and-activists1-ppt-powerpoint/ 9/7/07
4. Navajo Code Talkers.  Nathan Aaseng.  Walker and Co.  New York. 1992.  Pg.11