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CHIPS Articles: American Indians Have Served in the U.S. Navy Since its Birth

American Indians Have Served in the U.S. Navy Since its Birth
By Naval History and Heritage Command - November 1, 2018
Beginning today throughout the month of November, the Navy joins the nation in celebrating National American Indian Heritage Month. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Sovereignty, Trust, and Resilience,” which was provided by the Society of American Indian Government Employees.

Since 1776, when General George Washington began enlisting American Indians for his Army, Navy and Marines, American Indians have contributed significantly to the defense of our nation.

During the Civil War, 20,000 American Indians served with Union forces both at sea and on land.

During World War I, although ineligible for the draft, 15,000 American Indians volunteered to fight in the Great War. Although American Indians have been an integral part of our country long before its birth, American Indian veterans weren’t awarded citizenship and voting rights until 1919. In 1924, voting rights were extended to all American Indians after the Snyder Act was passed.

In World War II, 44,000 fought with distinction, including 1,910 in the Navy and 874 in the Marines. For the Navy, two Oklahoma Cherokees distinguished themselves. Rear Admiral Joseph J. “Jocko” Clark commanded aircraft carriers and later a task force. Commander Ernest E. Evans was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle off Samar, Philippines.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 American Indians fought in the Korean War and more than 42,000 during Vietnam. In 1966, South Carolina Cherokee Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class James E. Williams, while serving at South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, killed an unknown number of enemy forces while destroying 65 vessels and disrupting an enemy logistic operation. Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the three-hour battle against Viet Cong guerrillas with the two riverine patrol boats he commanded.

In the early 1970s, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt sought to reduce racism and sexism in both the Navy and Marine Corps with Z-Gram #66 (Equal Opportunity) which benefited American Indians immensely.

Rear Admiral Michael L. Holmes and Commander John B. Herrington are notable examples of the new opportunities for American Indians as a result of Zumwalt’s Z-Gram. Holmes served 32 years as a naval aviator, and Herrington flew for the Navy and later NASA, becoming the first enrolled member of an American Indian tribe to fly in space.

Visit the NHHC website for more information about Notable American Indians in the U.S. Navy.

About National American Indian Heritage Month
The observation of National American Indian Heritage Month has its roots in Public Law 99-471. Over several years the observation was moved to different months but in 1990 Public Law 101-343 set the month-long observance in November. Each year the President issues a Proclamation in recognition of the observance. National American Indian Heritage Month is observed from Nov. 1-30 each year. The observance month recognizes American Indians for their respect for natural resources and the Earth, having served with valor in our nation's conflicts and for their many distinct and important contributions to the United States. The theme for this event changes each year.

- Defense Equal Opportunity Military Institute
DEOMI seeks to develop and deliver world-class human relations education, training, research, and innovative solutions to enhance total force readiness. For more information about National American Indian Heritage Month and other national observances in support of equal opportunity, visit: https://www.deomi.org/

Edited by CHIPS Magazine

American Indian Sailors aboard a Navy LST (landing ship, tank). Date of the photo is unknown. NHHC Photo Archives.
American Indian Sailors aboard a Navy LST (landing ship, tank). Date of the photo is unknown. NHHC Photo Archives.

President Lyndon B. Johnson presents Navy Chief Petty Officer James E. Williams with the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1968. Courtesy photo
President Lyndon B. Johnson presents Navy Chief Petty Officer James E. Williams with the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1968. Courtesy photo

2018 National American Indian Heritage Month commemoration poster. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Sovereignty, Trust, and Resilience,” which was selected by the Society of American Indian Government Employees. Poster art by the Defense Equal Opportunity Military Institute
2018 National American Indian Heritage Month commemoration poster. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Sovereignty, Trust, and Resilience,” which was selected by the Society of American Indian Government Employees. Poster art by the Defense Equal Opportunity Military Institute
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