Washington D.C.: Last month, Native American
soldiers were guests at the National Museum of the American Indian. The
veterans drummed, sang, and told their stories of the wars in Iraq,
Korea and World War II.
One even knew Crow scouts at the
Battle of Little Bighorn.
Among those attending:
Medicine Crow, a 96-year-old World War II veteran, was awarded
the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. He also earned a Bronze Star and
one of France's highest honors, the Legion d’honneur.
Medicine Crow is the grandson of White
Man Runs Him, one of George Armstrong Custer’s Crow scouts.
Growing up, Joseph spoke Crow and English
and acted as interpreter when his grandfather was interviewed about the
battle. He became so interested that he became the tribal historian.
Medicine Crow told the
NMAI audience that he had
completed the four deeds necessary to becoming a war chief. One was
stealing an enemy’s horse.
“In World War II, I managed to have
captured 50 head of horses. These were not ordinary horses. They
belonged to SS officers, you know,” said Crow.
“And here’s this sneaky old Crow Indian
now following them, watching them. So they camped for the night. I sneak
in there and took all their 50 head of horses, left them on foot. So I
got on one, looked around there and I even sang a Crow victory song all
by myself. Crows do that when they think they’re all by themselves. They
do things like that. So I sang a victory song,” he said.
He recounted many tales and then asked
everyone who wanted to
join him in dance to get up on stage.
“So now, to honor the memory of those who
didn’t come back,
warriors in uniform, and also to say thank you to those modern
Indian boys and girls in service throughout the world, I’m going to sing
my old song, my war song,” Joseph Medicine Crow said as he began
drumming and singing.
Chuck Boers (Lipan
Apache/Cherokee) is an Iraq War veteran who received two Bronze
Stars and three Purple Hearts. Boers and Crow are the only two living war
chiefs. Boers gained his title on December 31, 2009. He served 26 years in the Army and
retired that same day.
Herman J. Viola is
curator emeritus at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural
"Native Americans have willingly served
in the U.S. military during every one of its wars and their numbers in the armed forces
today exceed the percentage
Herman J. Viola speaks to
guests at the National Museum of the American Indian
of any other ethnic group,” he wrote in his
Warriors in Uniform: The legacy of
American Indian heroism.
In the 1800s, Viola
said, the U.S. military placed Native people in all-Indian groups like
scouts. The fear was that white soldiers would have to take orders from
“One officer said Indians in uniform with
our soldiers would ruin the moral
fiber of our Army. Indians don’t have
the patriotic instincts that an American must have.
“But the big break-through for Indians
came in World War I. Thousands and thousands of Indians enlisted.
Several tribes declared war on the Germans. They weren’t citizens but
they felt their country was in danger and they went to war.”
The Germans, he said,
were very good at intercepting messages. Finally, one fellow with two
Choctaw boys in his unit
asked them “would you mind sending messages in
your language? And maybe we can make something happen here so the
Germans won’t understand us.”
“So the Choctaw became major
code talkers, but other tribes were also code talkers in World War
I,” Viola said.
John Emhoolah (Kiowa)
joined the Oklahoma National Guard when he was still in high school.
Later, he helped lobby for the passage of the Native American Religious
Debra Kay Mooney
(Choctaw) is an Iraq War veteran. In 2004, Debra's prayers led her to
organizing and hosting a powwow in an Iraq
war zone. Permission was quickly granted
by her battalion commander.
And then the work began.
“The drum, of course, was the pivotal
point. If we couldn’t get a drum, we couldn’t have a powwow,” Mooney
The first person she called was Marshall Gover.
“Marshall Gover is actually my adopted
uncle, and he’s a Vietnam vet and has been into powwows most of his
life. So, I called him and asked him what to do. He asked me what I was
going to do about a drum. And he was
Debra Kay Mooney
willing to jump on a plane and
bring his drum team with him from Pawnee, Oklahoma, to the war zone.
“But he took his time to make sure I knew
everything about putting a powwow together. He made sure I had all the
pieces and parts that I needed to know how to tell these guys what to
do. The second call was my mother, which is his sister — my adopted mom,
and told her what we were doing and what I needed and she went to work
on her end,” she said.
The powwow was open to all and became an opportunity to educate soldiers on Native
culture. 300 people from the base attended. It gave them a chance to relax and breathe America.
“What’s more American than Indian?” she
asked. “We even coined the phrase that the drum is the heartbeat, the
spirit of the Native American.”