NATIVE AMERICANS Military
Why does the military service of Native Americans continue to be an invisible history?
Native Americans in the Military
Research compiled by: Ziggy I., Tyreek C., Jordan W.
On July 12, 2014, in Carter Lake a pow-wow took place. This pow-wow has been going on now for 4 to 5 years and it honors veterans. UmonHon Veterans Association would like to keep this pow-wow going on for a long time.
Most traditional pow-wows start with a grand opening. If a veteran is present, they will carry the eagle staff and flags. Once the staff enters with the flags, then it is the dancers turn to enter. The order of the dancer are head dancers, men's traditional, men's grass dance, men's fancy, women's traditional, women's jingle and women's fancy. Teens and kids would line up in the same order. Master of Ceremonies would invite all people to come and dance. If you ever go to a Pow-wow the drums will be in the middle of the arena, although most pow-wows would not do this, the UmonHon believe that the drum beats represents the heart of a human. There are 7 people to a drum. The head drummer would face the Master of Ceremonies then his second drummer would be on the left hand of him instead of right. The drummers are also the singers of the pow-wow.
Silver and gold medals such as the one shown below were awarded to the Santee Sioux code talkers. The gold medals they were awarded are kept at the Smithsonian and silver medals were awarded to individual veterans who fought in the Armed Forces as code talkers. On November 20, 2013, thirty-three different tribes were awarded these medals. Due to the secret nature of their work, it has taken roughly 65 years to recognize these Native American veterans of World War II.
One of the winners of this medal was Walter C. John. Born in 1920 in Santee, Nebraska, John was a member of the Santee Sioux Nation. He entered the United States Army on October 15, 1941, and served in World War II. He was a member of the First Cavalry Division and fought in the Bismark Archipelago, New Guinea, and the Southern Philippines. John was a Santee Sioux code talker and used his native language to help guide his fellow soldiers. Code talkers like John, speaking in their native languages, were able to relay secret message by radio between U.S. troops. The Japanese and German translators were unable to understand their languages and the communications were safely delivered without enemy interception. Having been sworn to secrecy by the Army, Walter C. John never told his family about his work as a code talker. Only after he died did his family learn fully of his heroism and his work as a code talker. In 2013, Walter John's family received on his behalf the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in World War II. He received the silver Medal of Honor and his tribe, the Santee Sioux, received the gold Medal of Honor.
(Medal Photos Courtesy of US Mint, Photo of Walter C. John Courtesy of The Sioux City Journal, accessed 12/5/18)
Col. Tom Brewer was born in 1958. He is the oldest of Alice DeWolf, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, and Ross Brewer, who served in the Korean War (1950-1953). Tom Brewer grew up on a farm near Gordon, Nebraska and graduated from Gordon High School in 1977. In the same year he joined the Nebraska National Guard. Brewer served as a volunteer firefighter in Murdock. Tom Brewer served in Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and in Afghanistan in the 2000s. While serving with the 10th Mountain Division and 3rd Sprecial Forces Group in Afghanistan, he was shot six times during the 45 minute fire fight. During another tour in Afghanistan in 2011 he was wounded by a rocket propelled grenade. After retirement Brewer became active in politics.
(Photo Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society)
Native Americans have a long and rich history of service in the United States military. In the modern era Native Americans have seen duty in every U.S. conflict from World War I to the current engagement in Afghanistan. A variety of factors pulled indigenous veterans towards service, including cultural, educational, and economic factors. Although they have represented a relatively small percentage of the U.S. population, they have served in comparatively large numbers. Despite their impressive record of service, the modern history of Native Americans in the U.S. military remains relatively hidden. In popular memory Indigenous servicemen are remembered as code talkers, yet they have played various roles in the military. There are also few stories and no monuments attesting to their sacrifice. In Omaha specifically and Nebraska generally the story of Indigenous servicemen remains a truly invisible history.
Bernstein, Alison R. American Indians and World War II. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).
Britten, Thomas A. American Indians in World War I: At Home and at War. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997)
Holm, Tom. Strong Hearts Wounded Sould: Native American Veterans of the Vietnam War (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999)
Lemay, Konnie. "A Brief History of American Indian Military Service." Indian Country Today. March 28, 2012. https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/05/28/brief-history-american-indian-military-service-115318
Stabler, Hollis. No One Ever Asked Me: The World War II Memoirs of an Omaha Indian Soldier. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005).