By Roy Cook
This USA nation holds this patriotic period of time very dear in the heartland of America. We often hear of the ‘greatest generation’ in reference to the WW II VE day and the military efforts from June 6, 1942 invasion of France in Normandy to Berlin. Also, Flag Day June 14 every year is often overshadowed by D day and the 4th of July.
Even less notice is accorded the contributions of our Native Warriors courage and commitment in the many conflicts of this USA nation in the past 250 years. Why is this? Especially since the Native American has voluntarily participated in every military effort to establish and defend this land and people for all America. Native American courage and achievement examples from both theaters of WW II is well documented but too often historically ignored.
During World War II, the U.S. Marine Corps recruited Navajo Indians and used their language as a battlefield code that the Japanese never broke. The Navajo Code Talkers became the most celebrated and publicized of the radio units. All Marines are “elite” fighters and welcomed Indians because of their warrior reputation. The Navajo marines ended their ceremonial chants by singing the Marine Corps Hymn in Navajo. Their eloquence in songs comes naturally to Indians because of their long tradition of sings and ceremony in Dine culture. Navajos formed a series of special all-Navajo Marine Corps signal units that encoded messages in their native language. Taking advantage of the flexibility and range of the Navajo language, they worked out translations of military and naval terms so that orders and instructions could be transmitted by voice over the radio in a code the Japanese were never able to break. They were used first in late 1942 on Guadalcanal. Special Code Talker units were eventually assigned to each of the Marine Corps’ six Pacific divisions. By war’s end, over 400 Navajo had served as Code Talkers. Untold thousands of Marines owe their lives to the Navajo Code Talkers.
Thousands of our young relatives went into the armed forces or to work in the war production plants that abruptly emerged during military and industrial mobilization. A 1942 survey indicated that 40 percent more of our uncles and grandparents voluntarily enlisted than had been drafted.
American Indian recipients of WW II Congressional Medal of Honor.
Lt. Ernest Childers (Creek), Lt. Jack Montgomery (Cherokee), and Lt. Van Barfoot (Choctaw) all of the famed 45th “Thunderbird” Infantry Division received the Congressional Medal of Honor in Europe. Childers had first distinguished himself in Sicily, where he received a battlefield commission. Later in Italy, unaided and despite severe wounds, he destroyed three German machine gun emplacements. During the Anzio Campaign in Italy, Montgomery attacked a German strongpoint single-handed, killing eleven of the enemy and taking thirty-three prisoners. During the breakout from Anzio to Rome, Barfoot knocked out two machine gun nests and captured seventeen prisoners. Subsequently, he defeated three German tanks and carried two wounded men to safety. All of these exploits reinforced the “warrior” image in the American mind. Maj. Gen. Clarence Tinker, an Osage and a career pilot, was the highest ranking Indian in the armed forces at the beginning of the war. He died leading a flight of bombers in the Pacific during the Battle of Midway. Joseph J. “Jocko” Clark, the first Indian (Cherokee) to graduate from Annapolis, participated in carrier battles in the Pacific and became an admiral. Brumett Echohawk (Pawnee), a renowned expert in hand-to-hand combat, trained commandos. Native Americans took to Special Forces commando training; after all, their ancestors invented it. Native Americans endured thirst and lack of food better than the average soldier. They had an acute sense of perception and excellent endurance, along with superior physical coordination.
From D-day till today we continue to take pride in our Native American Warriors and all military veterans who have been willing to pay the full price for all of us to enjoy the freedom we share. Thank you all for your service to our country and this great land.