Indians, Iwo Jima, and the American Flag

During the World War II, 24,521 American Indians served in the military and received the following awards: Air Medal (71), Silver Star (51), Bronze Star (47), Distinguished Flying Cross (34), and Medal of Honor (2). More than 480 Indians were killed during the war. In the Pacific, two American Indian Marines were involved in raising the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima, a part of the prefecture of Tokyo, was heavily fortified and the Marines suffered high casualties. Mount Suribachi is a 546-foot high dormant volcanic cone located on the southern tip of the island. Raising an American flag on this mountain in the Japanese homeland was a major propaganda coup for the United States.

Louis Charlo:

 Louis Charlo, the great-grandson of the Bitterroot Salish Chief Charlo, was born in Missoula, Montana in 1926. One month after his 17th birthday in November 1943 he enlisted in the U.S. Marines.

In 1945, Charlo was a part of the 28th Regiment of the 5th Marine Division in their assault on the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima. Interestingly enough, the Marines were transported on the U.S.S. Missoula, a ship named for his home town.

The battle for Iwo Jima started on February 19, 1945 and four days later Private Charlo and seven other Marines reached the summit of Mount Suribachi. At 10:20 AM, Charlo and the other Marines used a 20-foot section of pipe to raise an American flag from Missoula at the top of the mountain. This flag, however, was too small to be easily seen from the beaches. Several hours later, this flag was replaced by a larger flag. The raising of the larger flag was captured photographically by Associated Press cameraman Joe Rosenthal. The original flag is now in the U.S. Marine Corps Museum at Quantico, Virginia.

On March 2, 1945 Private Louis Charlo was killed by Japanese sniper fire and his role in the flag raising was soon forgotten. Today the story of his role in raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi is memorialized in a display at the Rocky Mountain Military Museum (see photos below), in a song by Blackfoot poet and singer Jack Gladstone, and in the oral traditions of the Flathead Indians.

Ira Hayes:

While the first flag was being raised over Mount Suribachi, the Second Platoon, Easy Company was laying a telephone wire to the top of Mount Suribachi. These Marines reached the summit about noon. Among these Marines was Ira Hayes.

Ira Hayes was born in 1923 on the Gila River Pima Indian Reservation. He enlisted in the Marines in August, 1942. On top of Mount Suribachi, he was one of six Marines photographed raising the larger American flag. Three of these six were killed in action before the island was secured.

Unlike Louis Charlo, Ira Hayes not only survived the Battle of Iwo Jima, but he became famous because of the photograph. President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the photograph and felt that it would be a good symbol for a war bond drive. He ordered the flag-raisers to be identified and sent to Washington, D.C. One of the surviving flag-raisers identified four others in the photograph, but refused to identify Hayes because Hayes had asked not to be identified. Under pressure from the Marine Corps which was under pressure from the President, Ira Hayes was identified as one of the six.

The three surviving second flag-raisers, including Ira Hayes, met with President Harry Truman and then went on a bond tour. Hayes, however, had drinking problems during the tour and was ordered back to his combat unit.

When he was discharged in 1945, he returned to the reservation in Arizona where he found that the Pima still lacked water for their crops. He worked on his father’s farm, picked cotton, drank a lot, and spent some time in jail. Under the Indian Relocation Program designed to remove Indians from reservations and place them in distant cities, Hayes was sent to Chicago. Hayes was greeted at the train station as a hero, but was soon jailed for being drunk. He returned to the Gila River Reservation.

Hayes was not comfortable with fame. In 1955, he died of exposure to cold and alcohol poisoning. Ira Hayes was memorialized in a motion picture and in a folk song written by Peter LaFarge. The song was recorded by a number of people including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Kinky Friedman. Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, in her biography of Ira Hayes in Encyclopedia of North American Indians, writes:  “A media-created hero of World War II, Ira Hayes symbolized two postwar realities in American society: the return of thousands of veterans to civilian life, and the impoverished status of Indian peoples relative to Anglo-American prosperity.”

 

World War II Impacts Indian Reservations

In 1942, the United States was gearing up to fight in World War II and the military efforts on the homefront had an impact on several Indian reservations.

Administration of Indian Affairs:

The need for office space in Washington, D.C. to support the war effort resulted in moving the Indian Bureau to Chicago. The move reduced Indian Bureau influence with Congress and other federal agencies. The Indian budget was slashed and New Deal programs for Indians were dropped. This left many Indian programs in disorder.

A shortage of doctors and nurses on reservations developed as medical personnel joined the armed forces. Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier warned of the potential for a complete breakdown of medical services on the reservations.

Arizona:

 The government established concentration camps for Japanese Americans on two Indian reservations in Arizona: the Gila Indian Reservation and the Colorado River Indian Reservation (Mohave and Chemehuevi). The tribes were not consulted in this matter.

With regard to the Colorado River Indian Reservation, the government promises that the land would be returned to the tribes substantially improved for future agricultural use. The tribes opposed the concentration camp, but understood that if they refused the government’s demands they will lose the land. The tribe did not respond to the government. On the other hand, non-Indian business people in nearby Parker saw the concentration camp as a good thing:  “The project’s going to be good for the country. It will develop a lot of land, bring in irrigation, so white farmers can use it. White men can’t work out on the reservation now.”

Following the war, the federal government used the former camps to house Hopi and Navajo who were forcibly relocated from their homes as a part of a “colonization” program. Under the plan, up to 1,000 Navajo families were to be removed from their reservation as a means of alleviating overpopulation. The colonization program was a failure.

 Alaska:

 In Alaska, the U.S. Army removed the Unangan people from the Aleutian Islands and placed them in makeshift camps on the mainland where they suffered from hunger, cold, and disease. Many of the elders died. Their abandoned villages were vandalized by the American military.

South Dakota:

In South Dakota, the U.S. Army Air Corps “borrowed” part of the Oglala Sioux’s Pine Ridge Reservation for a gunnery range with the understanding that it would be returned after World War II. The army notified 128 tribal members that they had to evacuate their homes within thirty days. Some Indians reported that they were told they would be shot if they did not cooperate.

In 1943, more than 250 Oglala Sioux families were given 10 days notice to leave their homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation so that the land could become a bombing range.

Twenty years later, instead of returning the land to the tribe, the federal government simply declared it to be surplus which would allow non-tribal interests to acquire it. In 1968, however, the land was finally returned to the tribe except that the National Park Service was given management authority over half of the land which was now included in the Badlands National Park. For about 25 years, the federal government had leased out 90,000 acres of this land. The profit that the government received from leasing the land exceeded the compensation which had been given to the Sioux at the time the land was taken from them.

Oklahoma:

 In Oklahoma, the army expanded Camp Gruber. No thought was given to the forced relocation of the Cherokee who were living on the land taken by the army. The Cherokee had already planted their gardens and would not have food for the winter if they were removed. None of the Cherokee who were to be relocated had transportation and the army told them that it did not have any available trucks to help them. The Cherokee hoped that their land would be returned to them at the end of the war.  It was not.

 Washington:

 In Washington, the Wanapum fishing villages near the White Bluffs on the Columbia River were closed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a part of a top secret war project called the Gable Project (later called Hanford Engineering Works). The Wanapum were allowed to move upriver to Priest Rapids. Here they were allowed to settle in three abandoned houses that had been built for the operators of the first hydroelectric plant on the Columbia River.

Among those moved was young David Sohappy who would later become one of the leaders for Indian fishing rights on the Columbia River. Sohappy was related to the nineteenth century prophet Smohalla and would also become a leader of the Feather Religion, which is an offshoot of Smohalla’s religion.

In 1943, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation closed access to an area sacred to the Yakama. Government officials either ignored or were unaware of the 1855 treaty which guaranteed Indians access to this area.

Following the war, fish studies found that fish were now showing radioactive concentrations averaging 100,000 times the normal amount as far as 20 miles downstream from the Hanford nuclear facility.

Idaho:

In 1943, the federal government under the War Powers Act condemned 2,100 acres of the Shoshone and Bannock’s Fort Hall Reservation to be used as an airport. While the land was worth $100 per acre, the government paid the tribes only $10 per acre.

WWII and American Indians: After the War

( – promoted by navajo)

World War II changed both the Indians and the reservation. Following the war, veterans returned to their reservations. In many cases they returned as warriors, victorious warriors, and unwilling to accept the secondary status assigned to them by the larger society. They faced discrimination in housing, employment, education, land rights, water rights, and voting.

In many states, it was illegal for Indians to purchase or consume alcohol. Yet many of the veterans had found that while in the military they were able to purchase and consume alcohol with no legal difficulties both on the bases and while on furlough in foreign countries. Many returned home wanting this same freedom as civilians in the United States.

Celebrations and Ceremonies:

Many of the returning veterans went through purification ceremonies. The veterans reported that these ceremonies took away the nightmares about the horrors of war.

In Illinois, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) sponsored a reception, luncheon, broadcast, and parade to honor Pima war hero Ira Hayes. The event was organized by NCAI treasurer George LaMotte (Chippewa) without the approval of the NCAI executive committee. LaMotte led a parade of 75 Indians dressed in traditional regalia in a reenactment of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. There were 60,000 people in the audience. NCAI executive board member D’Arcy McNickle (Flathead) complained that the event was unauthorized and charged that it promoted Indian stereotypes.

Unlike other veterans, the Navajo marines who had served as code talkers in the Pacific were told not to talk about what they had done. For these veterans there were no organized celebrations.

In Montana, tribal member The Boy opened the Gros Ventre Flat Pipe bundle to honor his vow regarding the safe return of Gros Ventre soldiers from the War. The Boy remarked:

“the rising generation of Gros Ventres would not go back to this form of worship….They are too far gone into religion of the white man.”

GI Bill:

Like other veterans, many Indians took advantage of the GI Bill to attend colleges and universities. As a result, a new generation of Indian leaders, many of whom now held degrees in law, medicine, engineering, and other fields, began to emerge. No longer were Indian nations reliant on non-Indians to provide many of the technical skills required in the twentieth century.

While the GI Bill provided many Indian veterans with an opportunity for higher education, the bill’s housing provisions could not be applied on reservations. Banks would not loan money for houses to Indians on reservations. The problem was that the Bureau of Indian Affairs would not sign a waiver to the title to the land as Indian reservations were lands which are held in trust by the federal government. There was no way to secure a loan, even under the GI Bill, without this waiver.

Voting Rights:

Indian veterans returned home with different expectations about how they were to be treated. While they had fought tyranny in Europe and in the Pacific and had been treated as equals during this fight, they returned home to find that they were still second-class citizens (and in some states, the recognition of their citizenship lacking). The Indian veterans expected to be able to vote and when states attempted to deny them that right, they took their case to the courts. Throughout the country, barriers to Indian voting began to fall.

Even though Indians had been granted citizenship in 1924 and then again in 1940, it was common for many states in the 1940s to refuse to allow Indians to register to vote.

In North Carolina, county registrars refused to register Eastern Cherokee war veterans to vote. The Cherokee appealed the decisions to the governor and attorney general, but nothing was done.

In New Mexico, the path to obtaining the right to vote was started when Miguel Trujillo, Sr. (Laguna), a teacher, attempted to register to vote and was refused by the recorder of Valencia County. Rather than just walking away and accepting non-citizenship, he filed suit to obtain his voting rights. The Court found that New Mexico had discriminated against Indians by denying them the vote, especially since they paid all state and federal taxes except for private property taxes on the reservations. The federal judge remarked:  

“We all know that these New Mexico Indians have responded to the needs of the country in time of war. Why should they be deprived of their rights to vote now because they are favored by the federal government in exempting their lands from taxation.”

In Arizona, Frank Harrison and Harry Austin, both Mohave-Apache at the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation, attempted to register to vote and were not allowed to register. The Arizona Supreme Court overturned an earlier decision and agreed with the plaintiffs that their Arizona and United States constitutional rights had been violated.

The New Mexico and Arizona cases are often cited in history textbooks as the point at which American Indians finally received the right to vote. Unfortunately this was not the case and Indians had to continue that fight. American Indian veterans who had fought for American freedom in Europe and in the Pacific, now fought for American Indian freedom in the United States.  

World War II & American Indians: The Home Front

( – promoted by navajo)

World War II brought many changes to Indian reservations and to American Indians on the home front. These changes began during the war, and then continued following the war.

It should be noted that an American Indian reservation was attacked during the war. In 1945, a Japanese bomb carried by balloon landed on the Hupa reservation in Northern California.

In New York, the Six Nations Iroquois – Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Cayuga – declared war on the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) in 1942.

During the war American Indians showed their support for the war effort in many different ways. For example, many Indians, like other Americans, grew Victory Gardens to show their support for the war. In 1942, Indians planted a total of 36,200 gardens: this is roughly one victory garden for every two Indian families.

The Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board (Sioux and Assiniboine tribes) in Montana passed a resolution supporting U.S. involvement in the war and pledged men, women, and materials to the war effort. The Board asked to use $10,000 of their tribal money to purchase defense bonds.

In Arizona, the Cibeque Apache held a war dance for seven young men who were about to join U.S. combat forces. Each of the men was blessed with bat power which enabled them to dodge bullets with the same ease that bats avoid objects in the dark.

Concentration Camps:

In 1942, the federal government established concentration camps for Japanese Americans on two Indian reservations in Arizona: the Gila Indian Reservation and the Colorado River Indian Reservation (Mohave and Chemehuevi). The tribes were not consulted.

With regard to the Colorado River Indian Reservation, the government promised that the land would be returned to the tribes substantially improved for future agricultural use. The tribes opposed the concentration camp, but understood that if they refused the government’s demands they would lose the land. The tribe did not respond to the government. On the other hand, non-Indian business people in nearby Parker saw the concentration camp as a good thing. According to the local business association:

“The project’s going to be good for the country. It will develop a lot of land, bring in irrigation, so white farmers can use it. White men can’t work out on the reservation now.”  

In 1943, the U.S. Army removed the Unangan people from the Aleutian Islands and placed them in makeshift camps on the Alaska mainland where they suffered from hunger, cold, and disease. Many of the elders died. Their abandoned villages were vandalized by the American military.

Land Loss:

Among the many sacrifices which Indian Nations made during World War II was to give up reservation land for the war effort. Some 876,000 acres of Indian land was used for the war effort.

In 1942, the army expanded Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. No thought was given to the forced relocation of the Cherokee who were living on the land taken by the army. The Cherokee had already planted their gardens and would not have food for the winter if they were removed. None of the Cherokee who were to be relocated had transportation and the army told them that it did not have any available trucks to help them. The Indians had to rely on friends and relatives to help them move.

In South Dakota, the U.S. Army Air Corps “borrowed” part of the Oglala Sioux’s Pine Ridge Reservation for a gunnery range with the understanding that it would be returned after World War II. The army notified 128 tribal members that they had to evacuate their homes within thirty days. Some Indians reported that they were told they would be shot if they did not cooperate.

In another incident, more than 250 Oglala Sioux families were given 10 days’ notice to leave their homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation so that the land could become a bombing range.

In Idaho, the federal government under the War Powers Act condemned 2,100 acres of the Shoshone and Bannock Fort Hall Reservation to be used as an airport. While the land was worth $100 per acre, the government paid the tribes only $10 per acre.

In 1942, the Wanapum fishing villages near the White Bluffs on the Columbia River were closed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a part of a top secret war project called the Gable Project (later called Hanford Engineering Works). The Hanford Nuclear Reservation closed access to an area sacred to the Yakama. Treaty rights were less important than national security.

Bureau of Indian Affairs:

A shortage of doctors and nurses on reservations developed in 1942 as medical personnel joined the armed forces. Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier warned of the potential for a complete breakdown of medical services on the reservations.

The need for office space in Washington, D.C. to support the war effort resulted in moving the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to Chicago. The move reduced BIA influence with Congress and other federal agencies. The BIA budget was slashed and New Deal programs for Indians were dropped.

Employment:

On the home front, many Indian men and women left the reservation to work in defense-related industries. A wave of Indian migration from the rural reservations to urban areas was sparked by employment opportunities in the defense industries. Many worked temporary or seasonal jobs, retaining their home base on the reservation. However, many Indians found that they received less money for the same work when compared with non-Indians. Indians working at Fort Wingate, New Mexico, for example, did not receive the same pay as non-Indian workers. The Navajo tribal council asked:

“We do not understand how a Navajo can be a member of a union paying dues to secure the same benefits and be forced to accept a lower pay rate.”

The war brought many Indians into participation of the larger consumer-oriented economy. The war-time employment brought many Indians steady incomes.

Vision:

In 1945, four Cheyenne men-David Deafy, Albert Tall Bull, Bert Two Moon, Mike Little Wolf-vowed to go to Bear Butte in South Dakota to fast. On the fourth day, Deafy had two visions. In the first vision he saw a horse and rider on the top of the Sacred Mountain facing east. Suddenly, the rider charged and his horse galloped down the mountain at full speed. In the second vision, the horse and rider appeared again and as they charged down the mountain, Deafy saw a young boy seated behind the rider.

When the fasters returned to the camp at the base of the mountain, they broke their fast in the traditional way: a swallow of water every 15 minutes and then a little food every 15 minutes. Following this, Deafy described his vision to Whistling Elk. Whistling Elk interpreted the vision to mean that the United States would first defeat Germany and then Japan.

World War II & American Indians: Serving in the Military

A high percentage of American Indian men served in the military during World War II. During the war, nearly 25,000 American Indians served in the military and received the following awards: Air Medal (71), Silver Star (51), Bronze Star (47), Distinguished Flying Cross (34), and Congressional Medal of Honor (2). More than 480 Indians were killed during the war. While the armed services were segregated by race, Indians were generally integrated into Caucasian units.

A number of Indians achieved high military rank during the war. Brigadier General Clarence Tinker, an Osage from Oklahoma, headed the Hawaiian Air Force. Joseph (“Jocko”) Clark, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, was the only Indian naval admiral.

Navajo Code Talkers

Culture Shock:

Indians often faced culture shock at boot camp. Navajo elders, for example, never raise their voice to obtain obedience and Navajo culture teaches that it is disrespectful to look someone in the eye. At boot camp the Navajo recruits were exposed to drill instructors who shouted at them and forced them to maintain eye contact.

Indians who had been to boarding schools already understood the basics of marching. Navajo code talker John Benally explains:

“We had been exposed to discipline, in some respects, during the old boarding school days within the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We were marched to school, the dining hall and church in formation. We knew how to drill, not in true military fashion, but we knew how to drill.”

The Code Talkers:

Native American “code talkers” who spoke their native languages were used to help facilitate rapid communication without enemy comprehension. The most famous of these are the Navajo Code Talkers. Initially, only 30 Navajo are recruited by the Marines to serve as “specialists” in an experimental unit. The unit developed a new military code which included 413 military phrases which was broadcast in their own language. For example, the Navajo word for “chicken hawk” is used to designate a dive bomber. The code baffled the Japanese. As the war continued, 421 Navajo were trained as code talkers.

It is ironic that many of the men who became Navajo code talkers had been punished, sometimes brutally, for speaking Navajo in government-run classrooms. The government which had punished them for their language prior to the war was now asking them to use their language to help them win the war.

The U.S. Army in both the Pacific and in Europe used Sioux Code Talkers who used Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Sioux languages as code. As with the Navajo, the Sioux Code Talkers program was classified and the contribution of these soldiers was not officially recognized until long after the war.

Other military units used other tribal members as “code talkers.” This included Oneida, Chippewa, Choctaw, Sac and Fox, and Comanche. The Comanche were recruited by the Army for use in Europe because their language had no written form and could not be easily decoded by the Germans. The Choctaw code-talkers used the phrase posah-tai-vo, which means “crazy white man” as the code term for Adolph Hitler.  

Comanche Code

Action:

In 1942, U.S. Marine Navajo code talkers helped in the conquest of the island of Guadalcanal and patrols found that the code talkers made the difference between life and death.

In 1944, as the German army retreated, Oneida Indians from Wisconsin were the first Americans to enter Germany.

In 1945 the U.S. Marines captured the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima and raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi. One of the marines who raised the flag was Ira Hayes, a Pima from Arizona. As an Indian marine shown in a famous photograph, Ira Hayes received a great deal of attention. For many he symbolized the hoped-for assimilation of Indians into the mainstream of American life.

Following the war, American Indian federal policies focused on assimilation, even though many of the returning vets found that they were denied the right to vote.

World War II & American Indians: The Draft

( – promoted by navajo)

In World War I, American Indians had to register for the draft even though they were not eligible to be drafted since they were not citizens. By the beginnings of World War II, however, American Indians had had citizenship conferred on them twice by Congress: once in 1924 and again in 1940. The Nationality Act, passed by Congress in 1940, not only conferred citizenship on American Indians (even though they had be granted citizenship in 1924), but required that Indian men register for the draft. Passage of the Act was opposed by the Indian Defense League of America. Tuscarora leader Clinton Rickard urged those who wished to volunteer for the armed services do so as alien non-residents.

There were a number of concerns, controversies, and conflicts regarding the draft and American Indians.  

At the Tohono O’Odham village of Toapit in Arizona, 30 men under the leadership of Pia Machita refused to register for the draft in 1904. Marshalls and Indian police attempted to arrest the leader, but they were roughed up and forced to release the 84 year old Machita. The Tohono O’Odham escaped into the desert.

In North  Carolina, the Eastern Cherokee tribal council drafted a resolution which argued that the fact that the Eastern Cherokee were denied the right to vote in North Carolina also denied them fair treatment and equal rights by county draft boards. The council asserted that

“any organization or group that would deprive a people of as sacred a right as the right of suffrage would not hesitate to deprive them of other constitutional rights including the three inalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, if the opportunity to do so presents itself.”

The draft board in Gallup, New Mexico decided that non-English speaking Navajo were not eligible to be drafted. Tribal leaders objected to the ruling because many Navajo wanted to serve.  

In Arizona, six Hopi men were arrested for not registering for the draft. The Hopi claimed that registration was against their religious traditions, but a federal judge ruled that these traditions did not have any bearing on draft registration. The Hopi men were sentenced to a year and a day in a prison camp.

In 1941, Warren Green, an Onondaga, was drafted by the Army. His mother petitioned the court for a writ of habeas corpus ordering her son to be discharged because he was not a citizen. While the Iroquois (of which the Onondaga was a member) felt that the Citizenship Act should not apply to them, the courts disagreed.

In Florida, several Seminole men refused to register for the draft claiming that they were not Americans but were citizens of the Seminole Nation.

The Richmond, Virginia draft board ordered three Rappahannock tribal members to report to a black induction station. The Indians refused to go claiming that they were Indians and should be inducted into non-segregated units. The tribe is not recognized by the federal government and so the Bureau of Indian affairs did not support them. The federal court found the three guilty of violating the Selective Service Act and sentenced them to six months in prison.

Six North Carolina Cherokee refused to report for military induction as Negroes. The U.S. District court supported the Indians, overturning the local draft board’s decision and allowing them to join the army as Indians in integrated units.

In spite of the difficulties with the draft, American Indian men were drafted to serve, and many American Indians volunteered for the military. During the WWII, 24,521 American Indians served in the military.