Native Americans' proud history of military service;

14 Nov 2002 | Sgt. M. Trent Lowry Marine Corps Air Station Yuma

One November holiday that Native American people might be most associated with is Thanksgiving, with romanticized visions of American Indians sharing a feast with some of the first European settlers in North America.

Perhaps a more appropriate November holiday to remember Native Americans is Veteran's Day, since the deeds of warriors from many tribes working together to secure the one great tribe, America   have been part of our military history since the birth of our country.

It is most fitting, then, that National Native American Heritage Month be observed during November, when our nation celebrates two other holidays in which American Indians played such an important part.

"During American Indian Heritage Month, we celebrate the rich cultural traditions and proud ancestry of American Indians and Alaska Natives, and we recognize the vital contributions these groups have made to the strength and diversity of our society," said President George W. Bush in his Proclamation of National American Indian Heritage Month.

Native Americans have played a pivotal role in the military, dating back to scouts employed by colonists during the Revolutionary War. Scouts were also used in the Indian Wars in the later part of the 19th Century, and Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian, was instrumental in Lewis and Clark's historic expedition to chart the passage West before that.

Scouts and foot troops were also in service during the Spanish-American War, and were used in tracking down Mexican rebel Pancho Villa.

Choctaw and Cherokee warriors served in the U.S. Army during World War I as code talkers with a great level of success. More than 12,000 American Indians were in the armed services during WWI.

That number grew during World War II, when more than 44,000 Native Americans left their homeland to fight in Europe and the Pacific.

Marines used Navajo Indians as code talkers in the Pacific Theater to great reward. The use of the Navajo language, which has no written form and utilizes different pitches than most other spoken languages, was a completely effective form of codified communication.

The Japanese cryptologists were never able to decipher the Navajo tongue, and Marine and other Allied forces were able to communicate, and then maneuver, in security, leading to the Allied victory.

"We are grateful to the Navajo code talkers for their service during World War II," Bush said in his Proclamation. "These examples of our true American spirit reflect our shared history and serve as reminders of the unique heritage of American Indians and Alaska Natives."

Eight Native Americans earned the Medal of Honor for their service in the Army during World War II and Korea. Members of Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Pawnee, Sioux, Navajo, Pueblo and Iroquois tribes, to name but a few, fought with distinction and bravery, for physical, mental and spiritual strength are all inherent qualities of the American Indian warrior.

According to information released by the Naval Historical Center, military service for Indian youth offers Native Americans the chance to fulfill their roles as warriors protecting their homelands and their people.

The strength, wisdom and courage of the "first Americans" will continue to flourish in the armed forces, and the military recognizes the contributions of Native Americans during National American Indian Heritage month.
Marine Corps Air Station Yuma