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Native Americans have long history in the military

Throughout the year Americans take time to celebrate many different heritages. In February we celebrate African American History; March is Women’s History Month; May is Asian Pacific Islander Month; September is Hispanic Heritage Month and November is American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month.

The military is made up of men and women from different cultures and backgrounds. This month we recognize the contributions and sacrifices American Indians and Alaskan Natives have made for our country.

American Indian contributions date back to the War of 1812 when many tribes were involved in several battles. They also fought for both the North and the South as auxiliary troops during the Civil War. Scouting the enemy was one of the great skills of the Native American soldier.

It is estimated that more than 12,000 American Indians served in the United States military in World War I. During the outbreak of World War II, many American Indians answered the call of duty to defend their homeland. More than 44,000 American Indians, out of a total Native American population of less than 350,000, served during World War II.

The Alaskan Native and American Indian men and women on the homefronts also had a desire to serve their country and were an integral part of the war effort. More than 40,000 American Indians left their reservations to work in ordnance depots, factories and other war industries. They also invested more than $50 million in war bonds and contributed generously to the American Red Cross and the Army and Navy Relief Societies.

The American Indians and Alaska Natives had a strong sense of patriotism and courage during the Vietnam War. More than 42,000 Native Americans served in the armed forces during the Vietnam War era and over 90 percent of them were volunteers assigned to combat units in Vietnam. Their contributions to the United States continued in the 1980s and 1990s as they served in Grenada, Panama, Somalia and the Persian Gulf.

Alaska became a part of the United States on Jan. 3, 1959. Alaska was the 49th State to join the Union. But before this happened, the United States stationed military units in Alaska during World War II and built Navy and Army installations at Dutch Harbor, located on the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. The Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor and captured the outer Aleutian Islands of Kurile and Kiska in June of 1942. The American forces used Dutch Harbor as a staging area for raids against the Japanese held islands until they were recaptured two years later.

There are many famous Native Americans who have dedicated their lives to this country. Ben Nighthorse Campbell is the only American Indian presently serving in the United States Senate and is one of 44 chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. He also served in the Air Force from 1951-1953 and attained the rank of Airman second class. Another famous American Indian is Sacagawea. She was the Shoshone Indian guide who assisted the Lewis and Clark expedition between 1804-1806. Sacagawea replaced Susan B. Anthony as the image on the dollar coin. There are nearly 190,000 American Indian military veterans and historically they have the highest record of service per capita when compared to any other ethnic groups.

The United States is grateful to American Indians who are the nation’s original inhabitants and have made significant and unique contributions to this country. They have answered the call to duty, defended freedom and have served with distinction. As we celebrate this month we honor the American Indians who have served in all the branches of the armed forces.

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