Notes - Native Americans and the U.S. Military
Native Americans have
the highest percentage serving in the United States military than any
group in the US.1 They
have served with distinction for over
two hundred years from General George Washington during the
to today’s war in Iraq. The warrior
spirit, courage, and determination that made them a formidable enemy
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.
Americans have also distinguished themselves in service to the United
Congressional Medal of Honor is given for military heroism “above and
the call of duty.” Five Native Americans
were awarded this honor during the Twentieth Century: Jack C.
(Cherokee), Ernest Childers (Creek), Van Barfoot (Choctow), Mitchell
Jr. (Winnebago), and Charles George (Cherokee).
Twelve Native Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor during
Nineteenth Century: Alchesay, Blanquet,
Co-Rex-Te-Chod-Ish, Elsatsoosu, Jim, Kelsay, Kosoha, Machol,
Nantaje, and Rowdy.
Because none of
the treaties ever made with the Indians has been kept by the United
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
qualities prized by their culture:
Strength – physical, mental, and
Honor – recognition by family,
friends, and the
Pride – a sense of accomplishment
Devotion – survival of their people,
culture, their homeland
Wisdom – survival skills and
Revolutionary War, some Native American tribes served with the
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
private felt that the government needed a plan to gradually acquire
land. This duplicity of thinking lead to
a congressional policy (1783-4) which stated that since the Indians had
the British forces against the United States they forfeited rights to
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
troops. They were looking for a way to
stop the growth and development of their homeland as settlers continued
into their homeland.
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
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
officer. He became President Ulysses S.
Grant’s military secretary and the first Indian to be appointed
Rough Riders recruited Native Americans and they went to Cuba during
Spanish American War in 1898. When
General John J. Pershing went to Mexico after Poncho Villa during the
century, he had Native American scouts as part of his troops.
American Catholic Sisters from South Dakota worked as nurses for the
Department during the Spanish American War (1898). The sisters were
assigned to a military hospital at Jacksonville, Florida, but were then
transferred to Havana, Cuba.
Although they were
not yet citizens (Citizenship Act, 1924), more than 12,000 Native
to serve during WWI. Four men from the
142nd Infantry of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma
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
American women served as members of the Army Nurse Corp, two of them
granted citizenship, Native Americans were eligible for the draft but
for military duty in record numbers.
More than 44,500 served in the European and Pacific arenas, “a
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
move through enemy territory. Many
commanders spoke fluent English and could pretend to be American allies
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
troop strength, defensive coordination, and other information, the
plans remain secret. More than 400 Code
Talkers were deployed throughout the Pacific from Guadalcanal to
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:
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
soldier. He is buried in Arlington
Nearly 800 Native
American women served during WWII as medical or technical support
veterans from WWII and new recruits accepted the call to fight
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
Conflict and the Vietnam War to increase the female troops including
More than 50,000
Native Americans (ninety percent volunteers) served in the Vietnam War.
3,000 Native American served during Operation Desert Storm.
Iraq War and
There are not yet
any statistics about the number of Native American troops who are
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
five others are featured in “Voices,” a new exhibit at the Women’s
highlighting and honoring Native American women warriors who have
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
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,
The American Revolution Nationhood Achieved (1763-1788)
Harry M. Ward, University of Richmond St.
Martin’s Press New York, NY
The French And Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North
America Walter R. Borneman HarperCollins Publishers New
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
“Semper Fidelis, Code Talkers”
American Indian Medal od Honor Winners
Indians in the War 1945: http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/indians.htm
1. Finnicum, Brenda.
The Native Voice.
2. From www.usgs.gov/indian/caption/2006NativeAmericanPoster.html
4. Navajo Code Talkers.
Nathan Aaseng. Walker and Co. New York. 1992. Pg.11