Military Courage Among Native Americans
A Long Tradition Of Participation

American Indians have participated with distinction
In United States military actions for more than 200 years
Their Courage
And fighting spirit were recognized by American military leaders
As early as the 18th century

I Think They "Indians" Can Be Made Of Excellent Use
As Scouts And Light Troops

General George Washington

Many tribes were involved in the War of 1812
Indians fought for both sides as auxiliary troops in the Civil War
Scouting the enemy was recognized as a particular skill of the Native American Soldier

In 1866
The U.S. Army established its Indian Scouts to exploit this aptitude
The Scouts were active in the American West in the late 1800s and early 1900s
They went with Gen. John J. Pershing's expedition to Mexico
They helped in the pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1916

They were deactivated in 1947
When their last member retired from the Army in ceremonies at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona

Native Americans from Indian Territory
Were also recruited by Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders
They saw action in Cuba in the Spanish-American War in 1898

As the military entered the 20th century
American Indians had already made a substantial contribution
Through military service and were on the brink of playing an even larger role

Contributions In Combat

It is estimated that more than 12,000 American Indians
Served in the United States military in World War I

Approximately 600 Oklahoma Indians
Mostly Chotaw and Cherokee
Were assigned to the 142nd Infantry
Of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division
The 142nd saw action in France
Its soldiers were widely recognized for their contributions in battle
Four men from this unit were awarded the Croix de Guerre
Others received the Church War Cross for gallantry

The outbreak of World War II brought American Indians warriors
Back to the battlefield in defense of their homeland
Although now eligible for the draft by virtue of the Snyder Act
Which gave citizenship to American Indians in 1924
Conscription alone does not account
For the disproportionate number of Indians who joined the armed services

More than 44,000 American Indians
Out of a total Native American population of less than 350,000
Served with distinction between 1941 and 1945
In both European and Pacific theaters of war

Native American men and women on the home front
Also showed an intense desire to serve their country
They were an integral part of the war effort
More than 40,000 Indian people left their reservations to work in
Ordinance Depots
And Other War Industries

American Indians also invested more than $50 million in war bonds
They contributed generously to the Red Cross
And the Army and Navy Relief Societies

Battle-experienced American Indian troops from World War II
Were joined by newly recruited Native Americans
To fight Communist aggression during the Korean conflict

The Native American's strong sense of patriotism and courage
Emerged once again during the Vietnam era
More than 42,000 Native Americans
More than 90 percent of them volunteers fought in Vietnam

Native American contributions in United States military combat
Continued in the 1980s and 1990s as they saw duty in
And The Persian Gulf

Native Americans As Warriors

As the 20th century comes to a close
There are nearly 190,000 Native American military veterans
It is well recognized
That historically Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita
When compared to other ethnic groups
The reasons behind this disproportionate contribution are complex
And are deeply rooted in traditional American Indian culture

In many respects
Native Americans are no different from others who volunteer for military service
They do however
Have distinctive cultural values which drive them to serve their country
One such value is their proud warrior tradition

In part
The warrior tradition is a willingness to engage the enemy in battle
This characteristic has been clearly demonstrated
By the courageous deeds of Native Americans in combat

The warrior tradition is best exemplified by the following qualities
Said to be inherent to most if not all Native American societies
And Wisdom

These Qualities Make A Perfect Fit With Military Tradition


To Be An American Indian Warrior Is To Have
And Spiritual Strength

A Warrior Must Be Prepared To Overpower The Enemy
And Face Death Head On

We Honor Our Veterans For Their Bravery
Because By Seeing Death On The Battlefield
They Truly Know The Greatness Of Life

Winnebago Elder

American Indian Soldiers
And Airmen
Have fought heroically in all of this century's wars and armed conflicts
They have not only been formally recognized for their bravery
Through military decoration but through anecdotal observation as well

More important however is the warrior's spiritual strength
Many traditional cultures recognize
That war disrupts the natural order of life and causes a spiritual disharmony
To survive the chaos of war s to gain a more intimate knowledge of life

Military service is a unique way to develop an inner strength
That is valued in Native American society
Having a strong sense of inner spirituality is also a part of the Indian character
Many Native Americans are raised on rural or remote reservations
An environment that fosters
Self Reliance
And a meditative way of thinking
These character traits can be very beneficial
When adapting to the occasional isolation of military life
In times of both peace and war

The Real Secret Which Makes The Indian Such An Outstanding Soldier
Is His Enthusiasm For The Fight

U.S. Army Major


Warriors are honored by their family and their tribe
Before going into service and upon their return
Warriors are recognized by family and community
Recognition takes place through private family gatherings
Or through such public ceremonies as tribal dances or intertribal ceremonies

My people honored me as a warrior
We had a feast
My parents and grandparents thanked everyone who prayed for my safe return
We had a "Special" a dance
I remember as we circled the drum that I felt a feeling of pride
I felt good inside
Because that's the way the Kiowa people tell you that you've done well

Kiowa Vietnam Veteran

Being a warrior in traditional American Indian society
Gives one a sense of pride and a sense of accomplishment
At a time in life when self esteem is just developing
Becoming a warrior brings status to young men and women in their culture
The ceremonies that honor the warrior create a special place in the tribe's spiritual world

After I got home my uncles sat me down
They had me tell them what it "The War" was all about
One of them had been in the service in World War II
He knew what war was like

We talked about what went on over there
About the killing and the waste
One of my uncles said that God's laws are against war
They never talked about those kinds of things with me before

Cherokee Vietnam Veteran

United States military service provides an outlet for Native Americans to fulfill
A cultural purpose rooted in tradition to fight and defend their homeland
This purpose is particularly important
Since it comes when young people of the tribe are normally not old enough
To assume a leadership role in their traditional culture
The cultural expectation to be a warrior provides a purpose in life
It is an important step in gaining status in Native American culture

When I went to Germany I never thought about war honors
Or the four "Coups" which an old time Crow warrior had to earn in battle
But afterwards
When I came back and went through this telling of war deeds ceremony
Lo and behold I had completed the four requirements to become a chief

Crow World War II Veteran

Native American warriors are devoted to the survival of their people and their homeland
If necessary
Warriors will lay down their lives for the preservation of their culture
For death to the American Indian warrior
Is but another step in the advancement of life
It is understood that the warrior's spirit lives on eternally

So Warriors do not fear death
But rather regard it as the ultimate sacrifice for their own
And their people's continued survival


The warrior seeks wisdom
Wisdom as used in this context
Means the sum total of formal learning and worldly experiences

In wartime
Those Native Americans seeing heavy combat had to learn how to survive
Often using skills that many unit commanders thought
Were inherent to the American Indian's cultural background
A Sac and Fox/Creek Korean veteran remarked
My platoon commander always sent me out on patrols
He probably thought that I could track down the enemy
I don't know for sure
But I guess he figured that Indians were warriors and hunters by nature

Many American Indians
As well as non-Indian volunteers joined the military in World War I
To satisfy their sense of adventure
Most had never left the confines of their hometown
Much less marched on the battlefields of Europe
These experiences provided a wisdom through exposure to other people and cultures

This was sometimes threatening to the elders of a tribe
Who feared that this newfound worldliness
Would cause unwanted change to their culture
Over time however
This wisdom of worldly events and peoples was accepted by tribal leaders

Native Americans are increasingly exposed to the Non Indian world
This through movies and television

Although the military is still an avenue for seeing the world
It has in the latter half of the 20th century also provided other types of wisdom

Military service offers excellent educational and job skill opportunities
For Native American me and women
Who frequently come from educationally disadvantaged communities
Wisdom can also be gained from interaction with others

Military policy in the 20th century
Has preferred assimilating the American Indian into regular units
Although some divisions had more Native American troops than others
There were never all Indian units
This meant that Indians and non Indians were placed in close-knit groups
Perhaps each experiencing each other's culture up close for the first time

There Was A Camaraderie In The Air Force
That Transcends Ethnicity When You Serve Your Country Overseas In Wartime

Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Cheyenne Korean Veteran

Intertribal relationships were developed
Sometimes with a person who was a "Traditional Enemy"
Many times these intercultural and intertribal contacts broke through stereotypes
And resulted in lifelong friendships
Friendships that otherwise might never have been cultivated

Thanks To My Navy Military Service
I Now Have Friends In 500 tribes

Lakota Korean Veteran

The Warrior Tradition Carries On

The requirements for successful
Military Service
And Wisdom
Match those of the Indian warrior

Military service affords an outlet for combat
That fulfills a culturally determined role for the warrior
Therefore the military is an opportunity for cultural self-fulfillment
By sending young tribal members off to be warriors
They return with experiences that make them valued members of their society

The military provides educational opportunities
That allow Native American veterans to return to their community
With productive job skills to improve their quality of life

With the 21st century here
The United States military can be expected
To provide continuing opportunity for Native American Men and Women

For their part
Native Americans can be expected to carry on their centuries old warrior tradition
Serving With Pride
And Distinction

American Indian Medal Of Honor Winners
American Hero's

In the 20th century
Five American Indians have been among those soldiers to be distinguished
By receiving the United States' highest military honor

The Medal Of Honor Is Given For Military Heroism
"Above And Beyond The Call Of Duty"
These warriors exhibited extraordinary bravery in the face of the enemy
And in two cases made the ultimate sacrifice for their country

Jack C. Montgomery

A Cherokee from Oklahoma
A First Lieutenant with the 45th Infantry Division Thunderbirds

On 22 February 1944 Near Padiglione--Italy
Montgomery's rifle platoon was under fire by three echelons of enemy forces
He single handedly attacked all three positions
He took prisoners in the process
As a result of his courage Montgomery's actions demoralized the enemy
And inspired his men to defeat the Axis troops

Ernest Childers

A Creek from Oklahoma
And a First Lieutenant with the 45th Infantry Division
Childers received the Medal of Honor for heroic action in 1943
Up against machine gun fire he and eight men charged the enemy
Although suffering a broken foot in the assault
Childers ordered covering fire and advanced up the hill

He single-handedly killed two snipers
Silenced two machine gun nests
And captured an enemy mortar observer

Van Barfoot

A Choctaw from Mississippi
A Second Lieutenant in the Thunderbirds

On 23 May 1944 during the breakout from Anzio to Rome
Barfoot knocked out two machine gun nests
He captured 17 German soldiers

Later that same day
He repelled a German tank assault
Destroyed a Nazi fieldpiece
And while returning to camp carried two wounded Commanders to safety

Mitchell Red Cloud Jr.

A Winnebago from Wisconsin
A Corporal in Company E.
19th Infantry Regiment in Korea

On 5 November 1950
Red Cloud was on a ridge guarding his company command post
Suddenly he was surprised by Chinese communist forces
He sounded the alarm and stayed in his position
He fired his automatic rifle point-blank to check the assault

This gave his company time to consolidate their defenses
After being severely wounded by enemy fire
He refused assistance and continued firing upon the enemy
He fired upon the enemy until he was fatally wounded
His heroic action prevented the enemy from overrunning his company's position
It gave his company time for evacuation of the wounded

Charles George

Cherokee from North Carolina
Private First Class in Korea when he was killed on 30 November 1952

During battle
George threw himself upon a grenade and smothered it with his body
In doing so
He sacrificed his own life but saved the lives of his comrades

For this brave and selfless act
George was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1954

The United States Department of Defense By CEHIP Incorporated
In Partnership With Native American Advisors
Rodger Bucholz
William Fields
Ursula P. Roach
Department Of Defense

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