⚓ The Native American: Warriors in the U.S. Military


The Native American warrior tradition continues today as thousands of Natives are serving proudly in the military. The United States military has become, de facto, the only way an Indian can join the society of warriors, where there has historically been a strong sense of honor. That sense has not been lost over time. Native Americans continue to hold deep respect for their warriors, who currently wear the uniforms of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

James Elbert "Jake" McNiece (Choctaw) of the 101st airborne. (Photo Credit: Websta)

Snapshot of Native American History & Contributions to the Armed Forces

American Revolution

Native Americans had no universal policy during the American Revolution. Some chose to ally themselves with the British, others served as Minutemen for the colonist rebellion, and others remained neutral. Their contributions to the war went beyond direct participation. Americans often attributed their victory in the Revolutionary War to the use of Indian tactics. That is a bold statement, but the military clearly changed its tactics in battle more significantly than its British regular army counterparts. Indians continued to fight for America after the revolution, not just as allies, but also as soldiers in the military.

The Catawbas tribe and others sided with the Colonialist Patriots, due to their friendship and ties to settlers. The Cherokees sided with the British to protect their land from further encroachment. (Photo Credit: Know It All)

Civil War

As many as 20,000 American Indians served in the military during the Civil War. Similar to the American Revolution, Native Americans held no universal policy during the war. Tribes aligned themselves according to treaties and proper defense of their homelands. Indians held prominent positions on both sides of the conflict. A Cherokee leader, Stand Watie, was a Confederate brigadier general and at one point was given operational control over white troops. General Ulysses S. Grant's adjutant was a Seneca: Colonel Ely S. Parker, who wrote the document of surrender at Appomattox, and was later promoted to brigadier general.

Harvard educated Ely S. Parker (Seneca) was a Union Civil War Colonel who wrote the terms of surrender between the United States and the Confederate States. He was one of two Native Americans to reach the rank of Brigadier General during the Civil War. Later in his career, President Grant appointed him as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first Native American to hold that post. (Photo Credit: www.galenahistory.org)

Ely Samuel Parker (left) with General Ulysses S. Grant and Staff. (Photo Credit: NPS)

Iroquois man in Union Army Uniform (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Union Native American Sharpshooters from Company K, an all Native regiment of sharpshooters. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Henry Wassagezhic (aka Henry Condecon). Company K, First Michigan Sharpshooters. Henry’s Chippewa family name means “Bright Sky.” Both his father and mother were descended from a long line of well respected and revered chiefs. His war experiences from Company K, First Michigan Sharpshooters are highlighted in the book, "Warriors in Mr. Lincoln’s Army." (Photo Credit: Proceedings of the La Pointe band of Chippewa Indians in General Council and Assembled at Odanah, Wisconsin, 1907).

The 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles (left) were a Confederate States Army regiment which fought in the Indian Territory. One of its two commanders was Cherokee leader Stand Watie (right). (Photo Credit: The Miniatures Page, Zazzle)

World War I

In the early 20th century when the world was at war, Native Americans joined the fight to defend their homeland against German aggression. Nearly 17,000 Indians served in the military during World War I. They served at twice the per capita rate, when compared to the rest of the U.S. population. Their numbers were not the only significant part of their war contribution. Some Choctaws, for example, transmitted orders over the telephone in their tribal language. It was America's first experiment with an unbreakable code the Germans were unable to decipher.

Due in large part to their perceived natural abilities and skill at warfare, Indians received dangerous assignments. Native soldiers had a far higher casualty rate than that of any other group: five percent of Natives died in combat while less than one percent of all other members of the American Expeditionary Force in France died. This theme of exploiting Indian courage in battle remained a part of American military methodology through Vietnam.

It is noteworthy that Native American warriors chose to fight for the United States even though about half of them did not hold citizenship during all of World War I. The absence of recognition by the United States government did not stop Indians from feeling obligated to defend their nation. The issue was resolved eventually and by the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, all American Indians were United States citizens.

The Choctaw Code Talkers from Oklahoma pioneered the use of Native languages as military code (Photo Credit: Wyoming State Historical Society)

The American Indians who served with Company E, 142nd Infantry, 36th Division, during World War I were some of the nation's first "code-talkers." (Photo Credit: National World War I Museum and Memorial)

Choctaw Code Talkers Joseph Oklahombi, Tobias Frazier and Otis Leader (Photo Credit: Oklahoma Historical Society)

World War II

During the Second World War, the most famous and widely publicized story was that of the Code Talkers. Their legacy of transmitting an unbreakable code over the radio waves during the war proved vital to the success of the Americans battling throughout the Pacific. It is arguably still the Navajo people's "greatest symbol and source of cultural pride." While the Navajo contribution of over 400 code talkers remains the most publicized, Native Americans from across the continent played a crucial role in "code talking," including members from Wisconsin and Michigan.

In 1941, armed with optimism and having declared Indians to be fellow Aryans, Josef Paul Goebbels, German Minister of Propaganda in the Third Reich, predicted that American Indians would rather revolt against the United States than fight against a Germany which had promised to return their expropriated land to them.

Alaskan soldiers pose for the camera while in training at Hooper Bay, Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. (Photo Credit: U.S. National Library of Medicine)

Native Americans were not fooled by this ploy. They displayed their loyalty proudly. Warriors responded in unprecedented numbers to America's call for volunteers immediately after Pearl Harbor and continued throughout the war years, because they clearly understood the need for defense of one's own land. Approximately 44,500 Indians served in the military during World War II. This represented more than ten percent of the approximate 400,000 member Native American population.

Participation in the war effort was not restricted to military volunteers alone. From 1942 to 1945, 40,000 Indians, both men and women, left their reservations for jobs in the defense industry. They contributed all means of support including tribal land resources such as oil and timber. Many Natives outside the military took a personal responsibility to assist in the war effort at home. Indians planted a total of 36,200 Victory Gardens to fulfill both their own needs and the government's obligations. Indians were key financial contributors to the war effort as well. By 1944, Native Americans purchased $50,000,000 in war bonds.

There were 400 Marine Code Talkers in World War II from the Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Lakota, Meskwaki and Comanche tribes. Their efforts have been credited in saving countless lives. (U.S. Department of Defense)

World War II brought profound change to people across the globe, and Native Americans were no exception. Al Carroll notes this in his book Medicine Bags and Dog Tags: American Indian Veterans from Colonial Times to the Second Iraq War. He writes, "No other war brought such cultural and social change [to Native Americans] in such a short time." Veterans of the war came back as changed men and women. The warrior societies were reinvigorated and they began to have much in common with Anglo-American veterans groups, such as the American Legion. The bonds of war not only brought them together to re-instill traditions of their past, it gave them a renewed sense of purpose and identity.

When America re-instituted the draft, Native Americans responded with nearly one hundred percent registration rate of eligible men, setting the standard for Americans. Many did not wait to be drafted and promptly volunteered their service to the military. "Since when," one incredulous tribal member supposedly sneered, "has it been necessary for the Blackfeet to draw lots to fight?" Army officials maintained that if the entire population had enlisted in the same proportion as Indians, Selective Service would have been unnecessary.

Navajos in a U.S. Marine artillery regiment relay orders over a field radio in their native tongue. (Photo Credit: National Archives)

Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (Sioux) was a highly decorated combat pilot and Marine Corps fighter ace who flew for the legendary “Flying Tigers.” He received both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. (Photo Credit: California Indian Education)

benehakaka kanahele

Many Native Hawaiians volunteered to serve in the armed forces. Benehakaka Kanahele (pictured above) received the Medal of Merit and Purple Heart.

Jake McNiece (Choctaw) applies ceremonial war paint to another paratrooper from the infamous Filthy 13, an elite demolition unit whose exploits inspired the novel and movie "The Dirty Dozen." (Photo Credit: Websta)

The men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima in Joe Rosenthal's iconic photo. Ira Hayes (Pima) is second from left. (Photo Credit: First Aero Squadron)


About 29,700 American Indians served in the Korean War. They fought alongside fellow Americans with honor. Three who also served during the Korean War received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award given to a member of the U.S. military for valor in action against an enemy force. One of the Natives earning the award was Mitchell Red Cloud Jr., a Wisconsin Winnebago. Mitchell previously served in the Marine Corps in World War II. In Korea, he was a corporal in the U.S. Army when he sacrificed his life to buy time for his fellow soldiers. Refusing assistance he pulled himself to his feet and wrapping his arm around a tree continued his deadly fire again, until he was fatally wounded. This heroic act stopped the enemy from overrunning his company's position and gained time for reorganization and evacuation of the wounded. His actions fill the Ho-Chunk Nation with pride to this day.

In spite of being shot eight times, Mitchell Red Cloud, Jr. (Ho-Chunk) ordered his men to tie him to a tree so he could keep fighting, action for which he received the Medal of Honor. Red Cloud was the third of four Native Americans to be awarded the Medal of Honor in Korea (Photo Credit: Army.Mil)

Another Medal of Honor Recipient: Pfc. Charles George (Cherokee) unhesitatingly threw himself upon a grenade, saving the lives of his comrades who were embroiled in hand to hand combat. Shortly thereafter, he succumbed to his wounds. (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate) was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity.” (Photo Credit: Army.Mil)


During the Vietnam War, approximately 42,000 Native Americans served in Southeast Asia either as advisors or as combat troops. Their contribution to the war effort is even more striking when you consider the following. Approximately one out of four eligible Native Americans served in the military forces in Vietnam, compared to one out of twelve in the general American population. Despite the decreased popularity of the war, Indians devoted themselves to the cause.

Believed to be the most decorated Native American soldier of the War, Billy Walkabout (Cherokee) received the Distinguished Service Cross, five Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, and the Purple Heart. (Photo Credit: Best Teenagers Ever)

Walkabout in the 80s (Photo Credit: Best Teenagers Ever)

Ernie Wensaut (Potawatomi) checking his gear before patrol. (Photo Credit: Forest County Potawatomi)

Prairie Band Potawatomi member Larry Mitchell (center) served with Delta Company. He authored the book, “Potawatomi Tracks: The Ballad of Vietnam and Other Stories,” about his experiences and struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Photo Credit: University of Arkansas at Little Rock)

Cherokee actor Wes Studi volunteered for military duty and fought with A Company. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Glen Douglas (Lakes-Okanogan) served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. (Photo Credit: Standing Rock Indian Preservation)

Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and War against Terrorism

DAV life member Tyson Bahe (Navajo) served 5 years in the U.S. Army, deploying to Afghanistan twice as a cavalry scout. “The Native American culture is one of warriors. The elders pass down stories of warrior ancestors, and it is viewed as an honor to serve,” said Bahe. (Photo Credit: Army.Mil)

Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye (Navajo) being awarded the Silver Star for his actions during an enemy ambush in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan. (Photo Credit: Army.Mil)

Pfc. Lori Piestewa (Hopi) waiting for deployment to Iraq. Just five weeks later she passed into infamy as the first Native American woman killed in combat. Piestewa was a member of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company, which was ambushed in Nasiriyah. Three soldiers were killed, five taken prisoner, including Piestewa who died in captivity. (Photo Credit: Army.Mil)

Fellow captive Pfc. Jessica Lynch (pictured above). Lynch has repeatedly stated Piestewa was the true heroine of the ambush and fought like a commando. She named her daughter Dakota Ann in honor of her fallen comrade. (Photo Credit: Native American Church)

Among the many tributes nationwide, Arizona's state government renamed Squaw Peak in the Phoenix Mountains as Piestewa Peak, and a plaque bearing her name is located at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and Fort Bliss, Texas. Her death led to a rare prayer gathering between the Hopi and Navajo tribes, which have had a centuries-old rivalry. (Photo Credit: Army.Mil)

Soldiers taking part in the Native American Heritage Month celebration at Camp Victory, Iraq. (Photo Credit: Steven Clevenger, National Public Radio)

A woman on the Navajo reservation walks to welcome home veterans. (Photo Credit: Steven Clevenger, National Public Radio)

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Lt. Col. Brian J. Gilbertson (pictured above) authored “The Native American: Warriors in the U.S. Military” as a research paper while attending the Defense Technical Information Center as a student in the rank of Major.


DTIC has served the information needs of the Defense community for more than 70 years. Their mission is to aggregate and fuse science and technology data to deliver knowledge to develop the next generation of technologies to support our Warfighters. The Center manages the Information Analysis Centers, which provide technical analysis and data support to a diverse customer base.

Cover Design: Mark Martinez

River Drawdown Reveals 1,000-Year-Old Rock Art

Native American petroglyphs expert Paul Nevin consults a map of some 150 carvings on Little Indian Rock below the Safe Harbor Dam. (Photo Credit: Ad Crable LNP/LancasterOnline.com)

By AD CRABLE, LNP newspaper

CONESTOGA, Pa. (AP) — Until Paul Nevin produces a soft bristle brush and bucket of Susquehanna River water from his johnboat, the tip of a softly rounded boulder in the tailrace of the Safe Harbor Dam looks like any other rock.

But then the York County resident washes away the patina of caked mud. Shadows from the setting sun reveal sacred carvings from a people long gone.

A thunderbird, a powerful spirit for Native Americans that gives thanks to the creator for rain, appears in the gloaming, its body bisected by a serpentlike creature.

It is one of about 300 carvings on seven mica schist rocks amid a jumble of other rocks out here in the middle of the river. It is believed they were carved by Shenks Ferry Native Americans, using simple stone tools over a period from 500 to 1,000 years ago.

Because of a drawdown to repair the top of the Holtwood Dam downriver, the water level is down more than 3 feet this day, giving Nevin a chance to see carvings normally buried underwater.

This carving Nevin knew about, but he hasn't seen it in about five years. He runs his fingers gently inside its narrow outline, greeting it like an old friend.


Little Indian Rock in the lower Susquehanna River. (Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission)

"For Native Americans, this is a sacred place," he says. "And you feel it when you are out here.

Not Graffiti

The Jennings petroglyph was removed to Seton Hall University to save it from being covered by the lake that was to be formed behind the Tocks Island Dam. (Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission)

Originally seen as insignificant graffiti when first recorded in the 1860s by the Linnaean Society of Lancaster, the petroglyphs on 25 miles of the Lower Susquehanna are celebrated by archaeologists today as the finest example of Native American carvings in the Northeastern United States.

All are on the National Register of Historic Places.

And to the 62-year-old Nevin, who has discovered some 150 new carvings since the 1980s, it is apparent they are far more than doodlings.

There are four carvings that correspond exactly to the position of the sun for the spring and fall equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices. There are representations of the Seven Sisters constellation.

And the carvings include lots of serpentlike creatures, concentric circles, human footprints and faces, as well as elk, martens and other animals that once populated the area.


The "Water Panther" at the Parker's Landing petroglyph. (Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission)

"These symbols meant a lot to these people," says Nevin, who has been searching for, documenting and protecting the Safe Harbor petroglyphs for 35 years.

"They were meant to either transmit knowledge, stories, to give information about where the people lived or who they were. Maybe places where medicine men would come to receive visions to help their community."


Most petroglyphs were formed using harder stones (direct percussion) or hammer-stones and stone chisels (indirect percussion). (Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission)

Clearly, this spot was a sacred site. Of 27,000 square miles drained by the Susquehanna, petroglyphs have only been found at about 10 sites, all on rocks in the river between Turkey Hill and just below the Maryland line.

Forgotten by Time

From 1930-32, before the Safe Harbor Dam was built over the top of many petroglyphs and drowned others, the state made a major effort to document the rock art.

Some 188 plaster casts were made, and 68 sections of rock containing petroglyphs were cut from the bedrock.


Producing plaster and latex molds can easily damage the petroglyphs. The best way to record the images is to photograph them under good lighting conditions. (Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission)

Some may be seen at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. A few are on display at the Conestoga Area Historical Society and the Blue Rock Heritage Center in Washington Boro.

The designs of seven of the Safe Harbor petroglyphs are inlaid in the tile in the entrance lobby of the state Capitol.

After the state's two-year expedition ended and the Safe Harbor Dam opened, many people assumed the remaining petroglyphs were underwater, and they were more or less forgotten.

In one desecration, concrete footings for two duck blinds were poured over the carvings in the 1950s.

More modern graffiti has been added through the years, including the initials of a World War I soldier from Albany, New York, who visited on a summer day in 1917, and a carving of a dove with an olive branch believed added in the 1880s on Big Indian Rock.





Information from: LNP, http://lancasteronline.com

IHS Partners with Universities to Train Pharmacy Students

The Indian Health Service (IHS) announced new Collaborative Agreements between the agency and three top American universities: Howard University, Purdue University and the University of Southern California, to participate in the IHS Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience Program. This Program provides opportunities for pharmacy students to gain clinical experience at IHS facilities and it also serves to recruit future health care professionals to work in rural areas, specifically in Indian Country.

"Through the IHS Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience Program, we develop meaningful partnerships with top universities that train the next generation of health care professionals, while providing opportunities for students to gain practical hands-on experience," said Mary L. Smith, IHS Principal Deputy Director. "Upon completion, many return to start their career in providing quality health care to the American Indian and Alaska Native community."

"My experience with IHS as a student inspired me to apply to work here when I graduated," Fengyee Zhou, a recent IHS externship participant, now a pharmacist at the IHS Whiteriver Indian Hospital. "The level of teamwork among all health care disciplines and the extent to which pharmacists engage in patient care activities brought me back to Whiteriver."

Under these agreements, Doctor of Pharmacy candidates at partner universities will join students from more than 80 universities in 39 states to complete rotations at IHS direct service facilities.

"We are delighted to partner with the Indian Health Service to give important clinical experience opportunities for our students and to contribute to the IHS mission of providing excellent patient care," said Dr. Craig K. Svensson, Dean of the Purdue College of Pharmacy.

In addition to the Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience Program, IHS offers internships, externships, rotations and residencies to pharmacy, behavioral health, dentistry, optometry, nursing and medical students. IHS also announced an estimated $13.7 million will be available for scholarships and $30 million will be available for loan repayments this year.

"This program provides valuable experience for potential IHS health care employees," said Erik Chosa, a program participant before he joined IHS as a pharmacist at Crow/Northern Cheyenne Hospital for 14 years. He now serves as the IHS Billings Area Pharmacy Consultant. "It allows future health care professionals to experience how rewarding it can be to work at IHS."

IHS works to continually improve recruitment and retention of health care professions by offering competitive programs, scholarships and incentives. In the past year, IHS expanded pay scales, increased the availability of relocation incentives to recruit qualified staff and expanded its scholarship and loan repayment programs. Additionally, IHS streamlined the recruitment process with the introduction of the Global Recruitment Initiative to make it simpler for health professionals to find and apply for jobs; and increased the number of facilities eligible for National Health Service Corps opportunities.


IHS Awards Tribal Management Grants to Support Tribal Self-Determination

The Indian Health Service (IHS) has issued Tribal Management Grant Program awards to 17 tribes and tribal organizations, totaling more than $1.6 million. These annual IHS tribal management grants are intended to assist tribes in preparing to assume all or part of existing IHS programs, functions, services and activities and further develop and improve their health management capability.

“The tribal management grants are an example of how we are working with tribes and tribal organizations to assist them in assuming the responsibility of providing health care to their members and to operate and manage health care programs or services previously provided by IHS,” said IHS Acting Director Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee. “The partnership between IHS and the tribes and tribal organizations we serve is critical to our success in providing access to quality health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

The Tribal Management Grant Program is designed to enhance and develop health management infrastructure and assist tribes and tribal organizations in assuming all or part of existing IHS programs, functions, services, and activities through Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act  (ISDEAA) agreements and to assist American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and tribal organizations with ISDEAA Title I and Title V agreements to further develop and improve their management capability. The Tribal Management Grant program consists of four project types with various funding amounts and project periods. The project types include: Feasibility Study, Planning, Evaluation Study, and Health Management Structure.

The following tribes and tribal organizations received funding:

  • Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Presque Isle, Maine, $100,000
  • Canoncito Band of Navajo Health Center, Inc., Tohajiilee, New Mexico, $135,219
  • Coquille Indian Tribe, North Bend, Oregon, $50,000
  • Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos, Inc., Rio Rancho, New Mexico, $97,800
  • Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Health Board, Rapid City, South Dakota, $126,807
  • Indian Health Council, Valley Center, California, $55,000
  • Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Hayward, Wisconsin, $100,000
  • Mathiesen Memorial Health Center, Jamestown, California, $97,943
  • Sanford Tribal Consortium, Gakona, Alaska, $104,811
  • North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California, North Fork, California, $100,000
  • Northern Arapaho Business Council, Fort Washakie, Wyoming, $100,000
  • Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, Fulton, Michigan, $70,000
  • Oglala Sioux Tribe, Pine Ridge, South Dakota, $100,000
  • Osage Nation, Pawhuska, Oklahoma, $100,000
  • Seldovia Village Tribe, Seldovia, Alaska, $140,447
  • Susanville Indian Rancheria, Susanville, California, $35,000
  • Three Affiliated Tribes, New Town, North Dakota, $127,708

The IHS Office of Direct Service and Contracting Tribes provides information, technical assistance, and policy coordination in support of Indian self-determination. ODSCT is the primary focal point for ISDEAA Title I activities and implementation. ODSCT provides agency leadership and advocacy for direct service tribes in the development of health policy program management and budget allocation and advises the IHS director and senior management on direct service tribes issues and concerns. ODSCT also coordinates and collaborates with the Direct Service Tribes Advisory Committee to host a national forum for all tribal leaders to discuss best practices, partnerships and resources to improve the Indian health care delivery system.

The IHS, an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides a comprehensive health service delivery system for approximately 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.