THE SPIRIT OF TATANKA ALIVE IN OUR NATION'S MILITARY
Discovering my Native roots and trying to understand the culture has led me to many questions. One such question had been burning in my mind for sometime as I became romantically involved with a most wonderful man, a Lakota/Cheyenne, third generation career military and someone well versed in his Lakota culture so being curious and wanting to understand I asked him; "how is it you can justify bleeding and dying for a government that tried to annihilate or assimilate our people and destroy our culture?" For the longest time I put off asking this for fear he would be offended by the question because the pride he owned regarding his service was just as strong as the pride he had for his people but instead he gladly replied for he recognized my willingness to learn.
With a smile on his face he gently whispered to me as though it was a well kept secret; "you know, this is our country too". One simple phrase containing only seven basic words took away much of the anger I had no right to be feeling for I am neither full blood nor have had any direct connection to the service and it gave him a golden opportunity to teach me something about how interwoven the Native influence is within our military.
What my friend explained to me I think was best summed up within an article I found directly from a Government posting written in 2003 it stated;
"In spite of years of inefficient and often corrupt bureaucratic management of Indian affairs, Native Americans stood ready to fight the "white man's war." American Indians overcame past disappointment, resentment, and suspicion to respond to their nation's need in World War II. It was a grand show of loyalty on the part of Native Americans and many Indian recruits were affectionately called "chiefs." Native Americans responded to America's call for soldiers because they understood the need to defend one's own land, and they understood fundamental concepts of fighting for life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness"
Of course many are aware of the "code talkers" of our Navajo nation and their important contribution to stemming the tide of a brutal world war but are you aware that our Natives also joined the ranks of those serving in WWI? How about a combat regimental team in WWII the 73rd infantry comprised of Cherokee, Crow, Sioux and Cheyenne that were the highest decorated WWII soldiers that experienced the 2nd longest sustained battle record of WWII with of course the highest casualty rates within the war and produced 2 medal of honor winners? There was the 45th "Thunderbird" infantry Division and the 32nd infantry division of the Marines all with decorated heroes. The list of information is too endless to document within this short article everything from one quarter of all eligible Mescalero Apaches in New Mexico enlisted to over a million dollars in war bonds purchased at a time when our Natives were destitute. I recommend doing some research for the story of our Natives in WWII is quite impressive!
Our country's first inhabitants have gone on to defend our nation in every conflict since with great courage and honor sacrificing not only their lives but as in the WWII conflict with both land, money and natural resources that they've never been compensated for.
Within our military there still exists numerous symbols honoring Native heritage. Did you know that since 1968 it is official policy that all army helicopters be named after tribes or individual famous Natives? There's the Apache, the Lakota, the Iroquois (the Huey), the Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters, and there are war ships, such as the USN Red Cloud. A Cheyenne war chief is featured on the 2nd infantry division patch, the insignia of the Special Forces is two native arrows crossed and the 2nd platoon 423rd MPs in Bosnia were named Lakotas.
While there's still some differing opinions on whether these various symbols used within the military serve our people there's no denying the influence Native America has had upon the armed forces. They have been seen as "super-warriors", who are expected to be extraordinarily brave and fierce but because of these stereotypes, Native Americans often see some of the most dangerous duties in combat. They are disproportionately the ones always at the front or jumping behind enemy lines but perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the many brave and selfless Native men and women is the promotion of ideas regarding equality causing to break down racial barriers for when you are brothers in arms you are indeed related.
Now suffering from information overload on this subject I'm not sure I'm much closer to understanding our Native's sacrifice as a whole for this country but no one can deny the extent of that sacrifice and I for one am overwhelmed at our people's willingness to serve and have decided it is not for me to judge the worthiness of such sacrifices. Perhaps it is a collective modern embodiment of the Sundance where one is willing to suffer for the benefit of all?
Regardless of the reasoning's our people have a proud and noble tradition fighting and standing for this country's security and I for one am grateful!
May they and those that came before them be blessed!