America’s first warriors are also the first to defend America. As a people, American Indians are disproportionately dedicated to the defense of the United States; yet, as it has been pointed out many times, they don’t always get a fair shake.
But they deserve our respect. Our warrior culture starts with their warrior culture. No other group in America gave so many of their own as selflessly.
1. American Indians enlist in wildly disproportionate numbers.
During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Natives were 1.7 percent of the U.S. military, more than twice their population proportion of the entire United States, which is .8 percent.
During WWII, the War Department estimated that if every racial segment of the American population enlisted like Native Americans did, they wouldn’t have needed a draft.
2. They served in greater numbers than any other group since the founding of America.
Per capita, more American Indians serve than any other ethnic group. This includes during World War I, when they weren’t even citizens of the United States.
Depending on which state they were in, some tribal members weren’t able to vote until 1957.
3. American Indians claim 27 Medal of Honor recipients.
Recipients include legendary Marine Corps fighter ace and original Flying Tigers pilot “Pappy” Boyington.
The first American Indian Medal of Honor was awarded to Co-Rux-Te-Chod-Ish, a Pawnee scout accidentally killed by his own unit. They then spelled his name wrong on his award citation.
4. One of the Iwo Jima flag raisers was an American Indian.
He was one of the six men photographed by Joe Rosenthal on Iwo Jima. Many know this story from Clint Eastwood’s film “Flags of Our Fathers.” Johnny Cash sang a song about him.
5. Unlike other Vietnam vets, American Indians were welcomed back as heroes.
Call it a true “warrior culture.” Despite the ongoing anti-war protests, whenever American Indians in the U.S. military returned home from Vietnam they were welcomed as warriors.
Some Vietnam vets were spit on and called “baby killers,” even if they were drafted. While 90 percent of American Indians who fought in Vietnam were volunteers, their people still welcomed them back.
6. The first American Indian female to die in combat was killed in Iraq.
Lori Piestewa of Arizona was from the Hopi tribe. She was killed by Iraqi forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. She died in the ambush in which Jessica Lynch’s unit was captured.
She was wounded in the head near Nasiriyah and died from her wounds due to poor electricity in Iraqi civilian hospitals. Arizona’s Squaw Peak was renamed Piestewa Peak in her honor.