Veterans Day 2020 marks new Native American Veterans Memorial

This article appeared in the November 2020 edition of the Chickasaw Times

November 11 marks our country’s annual observance of Veterans Day. On this special day, we honor all our men and women who have served in our United States Armed Forces.

Veterans Day 2020 offers something very special for Native American veterans. A memorial honoring American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian servicemen and women will be placed that day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This new National Native American Veterans Memorial will be located on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

This new memorial is a fitting tribute to the Native men and women who have served our country in huge numbers. Chickasaws, along with thousands of other tribal citizens across the country, have served in the military in higher percentages than any other ethnicity.

We are tremendously thankful for all our veterans, and in particular our Chickasaw veterans. We honor them every day, and mark Veterans Day as the day for reflection on their sacrifices.

Originally known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, November 11 was designated in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson as the day to honor veterans of the Great War, later known as World War I. The date chosen for Veterans Day coincided with the Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice that ended the war.

The original Armistice Day honored only those American veterans of World War I. After the end of World War II, a movement formed with its mission to honor all American veterans on Armistice Day. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law. The name of the holiday became “Veterans Day,” honoring all those who have served.

Indian warriors have been a critically important part American history. They served during the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the War Between the States (Civil War). In the days of the American Revolution, Indian units were vital to the success of the new country. George Washington and other military leaders of the new nation understood victory could not be won without the contributions of the indigenous tribes. Indian nations were recognized for their significance, and their sovereign status, specifically in the U.S. Constitution.

With America’s entrance into World War I in 1917, thousands of Indians volunteered for duty. This was in the days before many Indian people were even granted citizenship in the U.S. It is estimated over 12,000 Native soldiers served in World War I, a huge number given the small total Native population at that time.

Over 600 Oklahoma Indians served with the 142nd Infantry, 36th National Guard Division in France. The men saw heavy combat and were celebrated for their “enthusiasm for the battle.” Four Indian soldiers were awarded France’s highest military honor, the Croix de Guerre.

In World War II, Native men and women once again served in high numbers. Over 44,000 Native Americans out of a total population of about 350,000 served. Many served in the 45th Division, also known as the “Thunderbird Division.” This heavily-Native fighting force was part of the tough Italian campaign of 1943. Many Native soldiers were recognized for their valor, and a Creek citizen received the Congressional Medal of Honor during this campaign.

Native men and women served with honor in Korea and Vietnam, and it should be noted that over 90 percent of those Indian veterans were volunteers. Chickasaw citizen Raymond Harvey was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor during the Korean War.

Today, Chickasaws and their fellow Indian servicemen and women are serving our country at duty stations throughout the world.

It is estimated approximately 180,000 Native veterans are alive today. During this Veterans Day it is fitting we honor our veterans, as we also honor our heritage that is such an important part of our survival, and our success.

We are proud of our history as Chickasaws, and as Americans. We remember those veterans who have served, and have died. And we honor our living veterans who are a testament to service and love of country.