Pascal Cleatus Poolaw Sr., 1922-1967. Family photo

Kiowa citizen Pascal Cleatus Poolaw considered most decorated Indian soldier

November 7, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Pascal Cleatus Poolaw Sr., a citizen of the Kiowa Tribe who was killed in action during the Vietnam War.

By the time of his arrival in Vietnam in 1967, Poolaw had already fought in two wars -- World War II and Korea. He also had earned a slew of military medals, including Purple Hearts, Silver Stars and Bronze Stars, for his prior service.

But Poolaw, at the age of 45, volunteered for Vietnam anyway. And it was for a selfless reason -- he wanted to spare his son, Lindy, who had been called up for service. Another son, Pascal Jr., had been injured earlier in the year during the war and he was worried about the impact on his family.

The elder Poolaw even gave up his rank as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, a promotion he earned during the Korean War, so that he could serve in the field in combat, a family member told Indianz.Com. But his time in Vietnam proved to be short. After less than four months there, First Sergeant Poolaw was killed when his squad was ambushed and as he was helping wounded soldiers get to safety.

“He has followed the trail of the great chiefs,” his wife, Irene, said during his funeral, according to the U.S. Army. “His people hold him in honor and highest esteem. He has given his life for the people and the country he loved so much.”

Pascal Cleatus Poolaw Sr. can be seen holding the American flag during an honor dance held after he returned to Oklahoma in 1952 following the Korean War. Family photo

Despite the tragic circumstances, Poolaw's heroic efforts in Vietnam earned him more accolades. To this day, he is considered the most decorated Indian soldier in U.S. military history, with 42 medals and citations to his name, including four Silver Stars, five Bronze stars and three Purple Hearts -- one for each of the wars he served.

Poolaw's legacy has further been recognized by the U.S. Army. A building at Fort Sill Army Base in Lawton, Oklahoma, where he was stationed prior to his deployment to Vietnam, is named for the full-blooded Kiowa. Poolaw hailed from Mountain View in Oklahoma.

"A more dedicated soldier could never have been found than 1SG Poolaw. This nation owes this genuine hero a great debt of gratitude for his service and ultimate sacrifice of his life as he fought for and died attempting to save fellow servicemen," Donald H. Pruitt, a retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant, who served alongside Poolaw in Korea, wrote in a dedication on The Virtual Wall.

"First Sergeant Poolaw will always be my hero," Pruitt wrote.