Honoring Native American Veterans
Native Americans have a proud tradition of service in the armed forces. Did you know:
- Native Americans have the highest rate of military service of any ethnic group in the U.S.
- About 200,000 have served – roughly triple the rate of service in the non-Native population.
- Native Americans have served with distinction for over 200 years.
- Native Americans are often motivated to military service for cultural reasons.
Some of you may find this extraordinary or at least interesting given the harsh realities of U.S./American Indian history. More than 10,000 Native men volunteered to serve during WWI despite the fact that most were not U.S. “citizens” at the time and were unprotected under the Constitution. In WWII, Natives had the highest rate of service at a time when patronizing businesses in reservation border towns was prohibited for American Indians.
Their extraordinary level of military service stems from diverse and deeply rooted aspects of Native American culture. In the 2007 PBS documentary, “Way of the Warrior,” Patty Loew interviewed Native American veterans on their experiences and found some were compelled to serve out of patriotism, others out of clan obligations, cultural mores, family tradition and treaty obligations. One veteran told Loew he enlisted because his tribe signed a ‘peace and friendship’ treaty with the U.S. in 1827 and promised to come to the military’s aid if ever needed. Despite the fact that the U.S. had broken every promise made to his people, his tribe was still honoring the treaty they signed. Others discussed the deeper, uniquely cultural meaning behind their desire to serve in the armed forces, such as honoring the warrior tradition of facing any challenge.
Many tribes were involved in the War of 1812 and during the Civil War, American Indians fought for both sides as auxiliary troops. Nearly 45,000 American Indians, 90 percent volunteers, served in the Vietnam War. Contemporary service rates are also very high, with thousands of Native men and women serving on the front lines in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflict areas around the world, and continuing to serve with distinction. Native Americans have served in all branches, receiving medals for valor, including the Medal of Honor, Purple Hearts, Air Medals, Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze Stars, Silver Stars, Distinguished Service Crosses, and Congressional Medals of Honor. The Navajo Code Talkers played a central role in the U.S. victory in WWII and the infamous Pima Indian, Marine Pfc. Ira Hayes, helped raise the American flag on Iwo Jima.
We wish to honor all of our Native American veterans on Veterans Day, along with their fellow veterans, so that they know there are those who care about their service and their sacrifice.