American Indians in World War II Indians have served in every American war since the Civil War.
“Well, when [the Germans] thought we were [slacking off], they marched us downtown to a place and they pulled out our toenails. I don’t know if this was a planned way of torture, but they made us walk back also. The first guy passed out. I was third, and I see black coming when the big toenail was pulling out.”
Warrior Mentality Historically, Indians have used wars and battles with enemies to prove themselves as warriors. Warriors protected the tribes traditional culture, protected the people, defended their resource areas and aided in the cohesion of the entire tribe.
With tribes no longer fighting each other in the 20th Century, Indians used American wars as a way to prove themselves as warriors and gain prestige within the tribe.
Economics • Indian men worked for $1.00 a day in seasonal jobs such as forestry, logging or planting. • In the service they would earn a minimum of $125.00 a month, depending on rank and branch.
Wisconsin • The land of Wisconsin has always been an important area for Native Americans. Wisconsin and the lands surrounding it became known as the “Middle Ground” during the infiltration of the Europeans. • Today, there are 11 federally recognized Indian tribes in Wisconsin.
Ira Hays • This famous picture taken at Iwo Jima shows Native American Ira Hays rising the American Flag.
The Numbers • About 25,000 Indians served in the armed forces • 40,000 in war-related industries • 99% of all able bodied Indian men registered for the draft.
Had the rest of the population volunteered in the same numbers, selective service would have been unnecessary.
Harold Ickes • Secretary of the Interior said “In view of the long period of strained relationships between Indians and the Government it is heartening that everywhere and in every tribe the Indians have responded willingly and gladly to the opportunity to share in the defense of the country.”
Women • Many Indian women volunteered as nurses. • In the forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin, women helped plant new trees as demand for lumber grew from the war.
Women • 10 women from the Lac du Flambeau reservation received Red Cross pins for 150 hours of knitting and sewing, and 40 Chippewa women formed a rifle brigade for home defense.
Stereotypes • “the Indian is a natural fighter, tough and self-reliant, jealous for his own democratic rights and privileges, sensing the Nazi attack on race, the Indian was hell-bent, as soon as the draft started, to join up.”
Stereotypes • “Indians are good warriors and can accomplish feats the ordinary soldier could not.” • 550 Indians died trying to live up to this image. 40% were Sioux, which had a reputation of being fierce warriors.
Shift to Urban Areas • While Indians fought bravely on the field of battle and earned great respect, the war did something to further damage the Indian way of life. • The war department did not want Indians kept in segregated units because this would hinder attempts at assimilation.
Indians went to war and proved that they could survive and fit in to mainstream society. • They proved to the American government that Indians could be assimilated.
Indians returned to their reservations that were riddled with poverty. The tribal land could not support the hunting and fishing needs of the Indians. They went off reservation where they were often arrested and jailed or at least fined. • This began a large movement off the reservation and into cities.
Pow wow • Veterans of WWII became some of the most honored people in their communities. • Soldiers of all wars are still recognized at tribal functions such as pow wows