November 05, 2010

DoD showcases Native soldiers

Honoring Indian veterans

By Ed HooperVeterans Day falls in the middle of American Indian Heritage Month, but those military men and many others, including Ira Hayes, Pima, who helped raise the iconic flag on Iwo Jima, and Gen. Clarence Tinker, Osage, who was the first U.S. general killed in World War II, are not names that come to mind for most people.

That’s because this is not the usual storyline of American Indian history portrayed in movies or taught in public schools. For most school children, American Indian Heritage Month typically involves a few lessons in early Indian history, arts and crafts, and the national tragedies of the 19th century. This is important material, but after the lessons one of history’s most influential indigenous populations is placed back in the closet until next year.

The Department of Defense is working to change this. For the last few years, they have used their Internet and media outlets to showcase the modern heritage that American Indians have brought to the armed forces of the United States for more than 150 years.

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant opened the door to the military for American Indians during the Civil War. New York Gov. Edwin Morgan had turned away Ely Parker’s (Seneca) Iroquois Volunteers, and Secretary of War Simon Cameron declared that Parker’s ethnicity wouldn’t permit him to serve. Grant secured Parker’s appointment as an engineer, and he rose to become the first American Indian general in U.S. history. Meanwhile, on the Confederate side, Stand Watie, Cherokee, also rose to the rank of general and was the last commanding officer to surrender in the war.
Comment:  For more on Indians in the Military, see Cherokee Runners in Marine Corps Marathon, Nazis Tried to Subvert Indians, and Choctaw Codetalkers Documentary.

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