Native Americans and Pearl Harbor Dec.7, 1941

By Roy Cook

As we consider December 7 and the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I want to take a moment and remember Hopi veterans who served their village communities and the United States in World War II. One of these individuals was Rex Pooyouma from the village of Hotevilla on Third Mesa. During the War, Mr. Pooyouma served in the Native American Code Talker Communications Network. He was one of at least 10 Hopi code talkers who used their language to transmit critical messages that saved the lives of countless people and helped to end the War.

In November 1945, Mr. Pooyouma received an honorable discharge from the military at the rank of Private First Class. He was a decorated soldier and earned several medals, including the American Campaign Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal, and a Bronze Star. In October of 2010, Mr. Pooyouma, the last known surviving Hopi code talker, passed away at the age of 93.

Navajos formed special all-Navajo Marine Corps signal units that encoded messages in their native tongue. Taking advantage of the flexibility and range of the Navajo language, they worked out translations of military and naval terms so that orders and instructions could be transmitted by voice over the radio in a code the Japanese were never able to break. They were used first in late 1942 on Guadalcanal. Special Code Talker units were eventually assigned to each of the Marine Corps' six Pacific divisions. By war's end, over 400 Navajo had served as Code Talkers. Untold numbers of Marines owe their lives to the Navajo Code Talkers.

In addition is WW II veteran, Mitchell Red Cloud, a Ho-Chunk Native American. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served with the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion on Guadalcanal. After refusing discharge as a result of contracting malaria and other tropical diseases, Red Cloud was assigned to the 6th Marine Division. In 1945, he was wounded and received a Purple Heart on the island of Okinawa.

After WWII ended, Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. spent the next two years visiting relatives. In 1948, he enlisted into the United States Army and was sent to Japan. On July 3, 1950, two weeks after the North Koreans invaded the South, he was sent to Korea with the 24th Infantry Division. On the night of November 5, 1950, Chinese Communist Forces attacked United Nations Forces.

Corporal Mitchell Red Cloud, Jr. was at his guard post when 1,000 Chinese attacked his company. He was wounded, yet pulled himself to his feet," the citation continues, "and wrapping his arm around a tree, continued his deadly fire again, until he was fatally wounded." Under his covering fire, the rest of E Company began a fighting retreat from the hilltop to fortified positions 1,000 yards south. Red Cloud was reportedly struck by as many as eight bullets before dying. For his extraordinary heroism, Mitchell Red Cloud, Jr. would receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in North Korea.

Following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Osage tribesman and Army Col. Clarence Tinker was promoted to brigadier general in 1941. He was promoted to major general in 1942 and was shortly thereafter killed in action while leading a group of LB-30 bombers near Wake Island. Oklahoma's Tinker Air Force Base is named after him.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor at the Cherokee Qualla Boundary reservation in the Mountains of North Carolina, every eligible young man in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians registered for the draft. Eventually, 321 North Carolina Cherokee served in the military, with 123 enlisting and 198 getting drafted. Unlike African Americans, who served in segregated units, Indians served in integrated units throughout all branches of the military. While Cherokee got along well enough with their comrades, white stereotypes about Indians often worked against them. Commanders imagined that Indians possessed some ingrained warrior ability that enabled them to shoot straighter, walk quieter, and fight braver than other soldiers. This perception meant that Indians often got the most dangerous combat assignments. By the war’s end, eleven North Carolina Cherokee had died in action—five in Europe and six in the Pacific—while a twelfth died stateside. Seven more were wounded in action. Besides a number of Purple Hearts, North Carolina Cherokee earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Silver Stars.

Also in eastern North Carolina, the Lumbee and other smaller Indian tribes supported the war effort with just as much fervor. Back then, the Lumbee tribe was not officially federally recognized. They passed their own draft act and sent their young braves into National Guard units. Women took over traditional men duties on the reservation. They served in every branch of the service, in every theater of operations. In 1942 Thomas Oxendine, a Lumbee from Pembroke, became the first American Indian to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and the first to be commissioned as a navy pilot. He served on the USS Mobile as an observation pilot, rescued a downed flier, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Eastern North Carolina Indians fought in countless battles, were some of the first Americans to cross the Rhine River in Germany, and helped liberate the Nazi concentration camps. At least twenty-five Lumbee from Robeson County died in the line of duty.

All across Indian America, in spite of years of inefficient and often corrupt bureaucratic management of Indian affairs, Native Americans stood ready to fight the "white man's war." American Indians overcame past disappointment, resentment, and suspicion to respond to their nation's need in World War II. It was a grand show of loyalty on the part of Native Americans and many Indian recruits were affectionately called "chiefs." Native Americans responded to America's call for soldiers because they understood the need to defend one's own land, and they understood fundamental concepts of fighting for life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

Lastly, less we forget, there are 226 of our Native American Vietnam band of brothers military veterans on the Vietnam memorial wall.