Native American Affairs

Native Americans in the Military

Raising of flag at Iwo Jima

"…American Indians have proudly worn our nation’s uniform in every one of our conflicts…American Indians per capita—have had the highest percentage of their people in military service, exceeding every American ethnic group."

Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Former U.S. Senator, Col

 
 
2nd Lt. Daniel Alvarado, received some very special gifts during his commissioning ceremony in May 2021. Daniel is part of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, formally known as Ho-Chunk. His Native American name is Hiragija Wani'uga, which means "He Who Shields Them." In the Native tradition, feathers are awarded for doing something exceptional, so for his family and him, that was being accepted into #WestPoint. The feathers chosen are Red-tailed Hawk tail feathers, which are considered sacred. For graduating, Daniel's mother had his feathers made into a prayer fan, which he can use to pray by burning their tribe's tobacco or sage, and fanning it onto himself or onto whatever he is praying for. (Source: @westpoint_usma on Instagram)
 
BW Collage
Left to Right: Minnie Spotted-Wolf, Blackfoot tribal member, USMC, first Native American woman to enlist in USMC; Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation tribal member, U.S. Army, WWII and Korean War veteran, medal of honor receipt; Tito William Chinana, Pueblo of Jemez tribal member, USMC, Vietnam War Veteran, National Defense Service and Vietnam Service Medal recipient; Lori Piestewa, Hopi tribal member, U.S. Army, Iraq War veteran, first Native American woman to die in combat, Purple Heart and Prisoner of War Medal recipient.

Honoring Service

Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed on an individual serving in the armed forces of the United States. This award is generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States on behalf of Congress.

About the Medal of Honor
List of Native American / Alaska Native Medal of Honor Recipients
DoD News Release

Highlights of Service

Ira Hayes - Iwo Jima Flag Raiser

On Feb. 23, 1945 to signal the end of Japanese control, Ira Hayes and five other's raised the U. S. flag atop Mount Suribuchi on the island of Iwo Jima.

On Feb. 23, 1945 to signal the end of Japanese control, Ira Hayes and five other's raised the U. S. flag atop Mount Suribuchi on the island of Iwo Jima. Three of the six men were killed while raising the flag. This heroic act was photographed by Joe Rosenthal, and it transformed Ira Hayes' life forever. Hayes was a full blood Pima Indian and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Involvement in Every U.S. War

Early Wars (before World War I)

  • From the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, American Indians served as auxiliary troops and as scouts.
  • The Indian Scouts were established in 1866. This service was active for the remainder of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.
     

World War I

  • Roughly 12,000 Native Americans served in the military during World War I.
  • Four American Indians serving in the 142nd Infantry of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division received the Croix de Guerre medal from France.

World War II

  • Over 44,000 Native Americans served between 1941 and 1945. The entire population of Native Americans in the United States was less than 350,000 at the time.
  • Native American military personnel worked as cryptologists, using their Native languages to encode messages so that enemy code-breakers could not decipher them.
  • Alaska Natives were a significant presence on the Alaska Combat Intelligence Detachment. This outfit was the first ashore on each island occupied by Allied forces in the Aleutian Campaign.

Navajo Code Talkers

Cpl. Henry Bake, Jr., and Pfc. George H. Kirk, Navajos serving in December 1943 with a Marine Corps signal unit, operate a portable radio set in a clearing that they have hacked in the dense jungle close behind the front lines. Photo courtesy of www.archives.gov.

The idea to use Navajo for secure communications came from Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos and one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently. Johnston, reared on the Navajo reservation, was a World War I veteran who knew of the military's search for a code that would withstand all attempts to decipher it. He also knew that Native American languages notably Choctaw had been used in World War I to encode messages.

Korean Conflict

  • Approximately 10,000 Native Americans served in the military during this period.
  • Three were awarded the Medal of Honor.


Vietnam Era

  • More than 42,000 Native Americans served in the military in the Vietnam Era, and over 90 percent of these service members were volunteers.

Post-Vietnam Era

  • American Indian / Alaska Native service members continued to serve in high numbers after the Vietnam Era.
  • American Indian / Alaska Native service members saw action in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Gulf War, and in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND).

Articles and Reports of Interest

Native American Women Veterans

Very little is known about the contributions of Native American women to the United States military. The Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation is attempting to fill this gap by encouraging Native American women veterans to register with the Memorial so that their stories may be recorded and preserved. They are also conducting research on the contributions of Native American women of earlier eras.

National Native American Veterans Memorial

Taking up the charge given by Congress, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has established a National Native American Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Opened to the public on Veterans Day 2020, this tribute to Native heroes recognizes for the first time on a national scale the enduring and distinguished service of Native Americans in every branch of the U.S. military.

Native Words, Native Warriors - Smithsonian Exhibition

When the United States issued the call to arms in World Wars I and II, American Indians answered as warriors. Some men discovered that words—in their Native languages—would be their most valued weapons. Crackling over the airwaves and telephone lines, the code talkers' messages proved indecipherable to the enemy and helped the United States achieve victory in combat. Decades later, the U.S. government declassified the code talker programs, paving the way for the participants' long-overdue recognition.

Native Words, Native Warriors tells the remarkable story of Indian soldiers from more than a dozen tribes who used their Native languages in the service of the U.S. military. Developed with the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, this inspiring exhibition was made possible in part thanks to the generous support of Elizabeth Hunter Solomon. Additional support has been provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee and the AMB Foundation.

CSPAN: History of Native American Service (Dec. 2, 2011)

A panel was held on the history of military service by Native Americans since the American Revolution, featuring American Indians who served in the armed forces during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. Mr.Emhoolah gave an opening prayer. Herman Viola gave a PowerPoint presentation based on his book Warriors in Uniform: The Legacy of American Indian Heroism. Slides were also shown during other presentations, some of which included drumming and singing. Chuck Boers presented the museum with a plaque of feathers he carried in the battle of Fallujah, Iraq. Jason Giles moderated. “Our Warrior Spirit: Native Americans in the U.S. Military” was held in the Rasmuson Theater of the National Museum of the American Indian. (2 Hours, 4 minutes) 

Recognizing Tribal Sovereignty and Cultural Traditions
Working to Fulfill Federal Trust Responsibilities
Protecting Natural and Cultural Resources
Consulting with Tribal Nations