national native american veterans memorial
The National Native American Veterans Memorial is located at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces
A Book Review
Thursday, November 26, 2020

As tribal members we are familiar with our own Veterans including those of yesteryears up to our current military heroes and we are taught from a young age to honor them. But have you ever wondered about other Tribes and their veterans?

We all know that Native Americans have served in the U.S. military at the highest rate per capita for any ethnicity. And we know of a few from other Tribes, for example Ira Hayes, Pima. Iwo Jima flag raiser and his tragic end.

Sadly, we do not generally know about the thousands who have served from other Tribes, nor about their participation in wars going back to revolutionary days. We are never taught that in school.

national native american veterans memorial
A closeup of the National Native American Veterans Memorial is located at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

A good remedy for that is the recently released book Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces, co-authored by Alexandra N. Harris, senior editor at the Smithsonian’s National Museum for the American Indian (NMAI), and Mark G. Hirsch, NMAI historian. There were many other major distinguished contributors as well.

But, as Kevin Gover, Comanche/Pawnee, NMAI director noted, the book was really written and lived by Native American Veterans, many of the surviving sharing their stories with the authors.

“We were enriched at hearing the stories of these good men and women who had served. Their humility and gentility belied the dangerous and brave lives they had led. They were candid about their service and themselves, often speaking freely about such difficult subjects such as post-traumatic stress,” Gover states. “They were funny, with the well-honed Native eye for the ironic and absurd. They were generous is every way possible.”

national native american veterans memorial
The National Museum of the American Indian is seen in the background of a pathway at the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

This book allows us to see many of their faces and hear many of their stories. Faces such as Joe Medicine Crow at the age of 100, a WW11 Veteran receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, 2009; Lori Ann Piestewa (White Bear Girl), Hopi, the first woman killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first known American Indian woman to die in combat in a foreign war; US Navy Pilot John Bennett Herrington, Chickasaw, the first American Indian sent into space; Ernest Childers, Muscogee Creek, National Guard receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor for wiping out two German machine gun nests and killing enemy snipers in WW 11; who also served in Korea and Vietnam before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

Special attention is given Harvey Pratt, Cheyenne Arapaho, and Vietnam Veteran who designed the Memorial. This is only to mention a few of the heroes celebrated in this amazing book.

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Clara Caufield can be reached at acheyennevoice@gmail.com

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