Native warriors protecting their homeland

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- "All of our people all over the country, except pure-blooded Indians, are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, including even those who came over here on the Mayflower." -President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1944

The month of November has been designated Native American Heritage month since 1990.

No one lived in the Americas before the arrival of the Indians. Most scientists believe the first Native Americans came from Asia at least 15,000 years ago, although some think they may have arrived as early as 35,000 years ago. People following the animals they hunted, wandered across the Bering Strait into what is now called Alaska. Before European arrival, the Indians had spread throughout the New World. Varied tribes and cultures ranged from the Arctic regions of North America to the southern tip of South America.

Most Native Americans met by early European explorers were practicing economic and
settlement patterns of the Woodland culture. They grew crops of maize, tobacco, beans
and squash, spent considerable time hunting and fishing and lived in small villages. Because the Europeans thought they had come ashore in India, they called the Native Americans, "Indians." From that point on, Native Americans have fought a continuous battle to preserve their way of life.

Although they initially fought hard against European settlers to keep their land, Native Americans eventually fought for the government in every American war. Native Americans participated in early disputes such as the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

The Civil War brought division between Native American tribes. There were several key Native American Soldiers that served for both the Union and the Confederatcy. The highest ranking Native American officer in the war served on the Confederate side. Brig. Gen. Stand Watie was a Cherokee who commanded two mounted rifle regiments as well as three battalions of Cherokee, Seminole, and Osage infantry. General Watie was the last general of the Confederate army to surrender to the Union. Lt. Col. Ely S. Parker, a Seneca, served for the Union as military secretary to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Colonel Parker was the officer who penned the final copy of the terms of the Confederate surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. He later became the first Native American to achieve the status of brigadier general in the U.S. Army.

To date, the most famous Native Warriors of the past served during the World Wars. During World War I and II, many Native Americans served in the military as "Code Talkers." They translated radio messages into their native tongues and wrote messages to be delivered via "runner" from one company to another. The German Army was never able to figure out the encoded messages. In WWII, they used such words as beesh too, which meant "iron fish" or submarine, and dah-he-tih-hi, meaning "hummingbird" or fighter plane. Some messages were double-encrypted by first encoding the English message, then translating it. The code was so complex, that when a "non-code talker" was captured by the Japanese, he was unable to decipher the transmission despite being tortured and almost beaten to death.

During the Korean War, there were no recorded numbers of how many Native Americans served; however, three of the many Native Americans who served received the Medal of Honor. The Vietnam War showed the strongest Native American participation with approximately 42,500 Native American serving. The most decorated Native American soldier in history was First Sgt. Pascal Cleatus Poolaw, Sr. He first served in WWII, followed by the Korean War and finally in the Vietnam War. He served 25 years in the military earning a total of 42 awards, including four Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, one Air Medal and three Purple Hearts. Ultimately he gave his life for the United States when his wounds from small arms fire proved fatal in 1967.

Presently, statistics do not show how many Native Americans are fighting in the War against Terror. However, if history repeats itself, then Native Americans will continue to honorably defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

For more information on observance events, please contact the Military Equal Opportunity office at 452-6392.