Native Americans in uniform: Continuing warrior tradition

  • Published
  • By Ann Lukens
  • School Liaison Officer
The long history of participation by Native Americans as members of the military is rooted in their culture of the warrior tradition.

Their willingness to engage in battle, not to mention qualities of strength, honor, pride, devotion and wisdom, are found in most Native American societies.

The American Indian warrior sought to be strong physically, mentally and spiritually in order to face his enemy. The traditional culture recognizes that war disrupts the natural order of life.

Surviving the chaos of war became a unique way to develop inner strength. Within this culture, warriors were honored by their family and the tribe, so becoming a warrior provided a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Military service allowed young men and women the chance to fight and defend their homeland and their way of life. Wisdom and the skills needed to survive everyday life became even more crucial in wartime.

Leaving home to join the military almost always meant traveling to distant lands, satisfying an urge to experience adventure. It is not surprising than that these qualities and this warrior tradition produced heroes.

Some would say there are no greater heroes than those awarded the Medal of Honor.

During the period of the Indian Wars following the Civil War, 16 Native American received this medal. During World War II, five Native American warriors earned it and three Native Americans earned it during the Korean War. A fourth warrior was recognized for gallantry during the Korean War.

While not a Medal of Honor recipient, Pascal Poolaw was certainly a hero. Referred to as America's most decorated Indian soldier, he served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He earned 42 medals and citations to include four Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart for each of the wars he served in. He died as he pulled yet another casualty back to their own lines.

It is a blessing to our country that the warrior tradition, like the languages of the Comanche and Navajo code talkers, survived efforts to abolish it. It continues today in every Native American who serves his/her country. We are a richer culture and a free country because of it.