Very little is known about the contributions of Native
American women to the United States military. The Women
In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation is attempting
to fill this gap by encouraging Native American women veterans
to register with the Memorial so that their stories may
be recorded and preserved. They are also conducting research
on the contributions of Native American women of earlier
Historians have only recently rediscovered and verified
the actions of an Oneida woman, Tyonajanegen, at the battle
of Oriskany during the American Revolution (1775-1783).
Tyonajanegen was married to an American Army officer of
Dutch descent. She fought at her husband's side on horseback
during the battle, loading her husband's gun for him after
he was shot in the wrist.
The story of Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied
the Lewis and Clark expedition of the early 19th century,
is somewhat better known. Much of what is common knowledge
is myth, however. Sacajawea has been remembered as a guide.
In reality, she served as an interpreter for members of
the expedition, who were unfamiliar with the Indian language.
"Bird Woman's" service is described in the journals kept
by Army Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during
Four Native American Catholic Sisters from Fort Berthold,
South Dakota worked as nurses for the War Department during
the Spanish American War (1898). Originally assigned to
the military hospital at Jacksonville, Florida, the nurses
were soon transferred to Havana, Cuba. One of the nurses,
Sister Anthony died of disease in Cuba and was buried with
Charlotte Edith (Anderson) Monture
Native American women served as members of the Army Nurse
Corps during World War I, two of them overseas. Mrs. Cora
E. Sinnard, a member of the Oneida Tribe and a graduate
of the Episcopalian School of Nursing in Philadelphia, served
eighteen months in France with a hospital unit provided
by the Episcopal Church. Charlotte Edith (Anderson) Monture
of the Iroquois Nation also served as an Army nurse in France.
Charlotte was born in 1890 in Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada.
In 1917, she left her job as an elementary school nurse
to join the Army Nurse Corps. She later referred to her
service in France at a military hospital as "the adventure
of a lifetime." Charlotte passed away in 1996, at the age
Elva (Tapedo) Wale
800 Native American women served in the military during
World War II. Elva (Tapedo) Wale, a Kiowa, left her Oklahoma
reservation to join theWomen's Army Corps. Private Tapedo
became an "Air WAC," and worked on Army Air Bases across
the United States. Corporal Bernice (Firstshoot) Bailey
of Lodge Pole, Montana, joined the Women's Army Corps in
1945 and served until 1948. After the war, she was sent
to Wiesbaden, Germany, as part of the Army of Occupation.
(Coffey) Thayer also served in the Army of Occupation
in Germany. Beatrice remembers being assigned to KP with
German POWs, who were accompanied by armed guards. Beatrice
was in Germany when the Berlin Wall went up, and remained
in the Army until the 1970s.
(Whipple) Fletcher joined the Army during World War
II and trained as a medical specialist. She was assigned
to the hospital at Camp Stoneman, California, which was
an Army port of embarkation for the Pacific. Alida was on
duty the night two ships loaded with explosives collided
at a nearby ammunition dump, killing approximately 400 sailors
and wounding many more. The wounded were brought to the
hospital where Alida worked. She remembers that night as
the most tragic of her life.
Lieutenant Julia (Nashanany) Reeves,
a member of the Potawatomie Indian Tribe of Crandon, Wisconsin,
joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1942, and was assigned to
one of the first medical Units shipped to the Pacific. The
52nd Evacuation Hospital Unit was sent to New Caledonia
before its members had received their Army uniforms. When
the hospital ship Solace arrived at New Caledonia,
Julia was assigned temporary duty aboard the ship. The following
year, Julia was transferred to the 23rd Station Hospital
in Norwich, England, where she was stationed during the
invasion of Normandy. She remained in Norwich through V-J
Day, returning shortly afterward to the United States. During
the Korean War, Julia mobilized with the 804th Station Hospital.
Spotted-Wolf of Heart Butte, Montana, enlisted in
the Marine Corps Women's Reserve in July 1943. She was the
first female American Indian to enroll in the Corps. Minnie
had worked on her father's ranch doing such chores as cutting
fence posts, driving a two-ton truck, and breaking horses.
Her comment on Marine boot camp "Hard but not too hard."
Mildred Rexroat, an Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge
Indian Reservation, South Dakota, joined the Women's Airforce
Service Pilots (WASP) directly out of high school. Her job
was to tow targets for aerial gunnery students at Eagle
Pass Army Air Base in Texas. Towing targets for student
gunners was a fairly dangerous assignment, but "Rexy" was
happy to be able to contribute to the war effort in a meaningful
way. After the war ended, Ola joined the Air Force and served
for almost ten years.
During the 1950s and 1960s, fewer women felt the call to
military service. The services, however, were in desperate
need of womanpower during the Korean conflict and the Vietnam
War, and conducted extensive recruitment campaigns aimed
at young women. Many Native American women answered their
Sarah Mae Peshlakai, a member
of the Navajo Tribe from Crystal, New Mexico, enlisted in
the Women's Army Corps in 1951 and served until 1957. Peshlakai
trained as a medical specialist and was assigned to Yokohama
Army Hospital in Japan, where she helped care for casualties
from the Korean battlefields.
Fender entered the Navy during the Korean Conflict
and trained at Bainbridge, Maryland. She was severely injured
during basic training and was sent to a Navy hospital for
physical rehabilitation. Undeterred, Verna returned to Bainbridge
and completed her training. The Navy assigned Verna to its
base in San Diego, California, where she completed her 3-year
term of enlistment, working in the departments of berthing
and sectioning, supply, and ordnance. Shirley
M. Arviso, a Navajo of the Bitter Water Clan, served
in the Navy from 1953 through 1963. She was the Communications
Officer in charge of a group of people who decrypted classified
Ross, a member of the Arikara Tribe from the Fort
Berthold Reservation, joined the Air Force in 1953, and
trained as a medical specialist. Her first assignment was
to the Air Force hospital in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Pearl was
then assigned to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where
she worked in the 865th Medical Group at SAC HQ. During
theVietnam era, she saw many men who had been wounded in
the combat theater. Pearl volunteered for overseas duty,
but was turned down because the Air Force was hesitant to
send women to Vietnam.
enlisted in the Air Force in the late 1950s and was on duty
when President Kennedy was assassinated. She remembers that
the air base where she was stationed went on full alert.
A later assignment took her to the southern United States
during the Civil Rights movement. As a non-white, she found
the environment somewhat difficult, however, she retained
pride in her uniform as a woman of color.
joined the WAC in 1963 and took her basic and secretarial
training at Ft. McClellan. Alabama. Her first duty assignment
was to Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, where she worked for three
years in the travel office and motor pool in support of
troop readiness during the Vietnam War. In 1966, Monteiro
was assigned to Ft. Richardson, Alaska, where she served
as an administration specialist at the Education Center
for a year.
Lance Corporal Valla
Dee Jack Egge of Dougherty, Oklahoma, served in the
U.S. Marine Corps in the early 1960s as the executive secretary
to two commanding generals of the Parris Island Marine Corps
Base, South Carolina.
Increasing numbers of women, including Native Americans,
entered the military in the 1970s and 1980s. Patricia
White Bear joined the Navy in 1981. She trained as
an instrumentman and served at sea repairing, adjusting
and calibrating the wide variety of mechanical measuring
instruments used aboard ships. Dolores
Kathleen Smith, a Cherokee, graduated from the Air
Force Academy in 1982. She completed navigator training
and was assigned to a KC-135 unit. She served in the operational
plans division of her unit and also as an instructor before
retiring as a captain from the Air Force in 1990.
of the Lakota Tribe was inspired to join the Army because
so many of the men in her family had served. Her grandfather,
Bear Saves Life, was killed in action in France during World
War I. Her father, brothers, brothers-in-law, uncles and
cousins were all veterans. Darlene was assigned to the U.
S. Army in Korea as a Specialist 4th Class. Lawnikwa Spotted-Eaglefortune
joined the Army in 1988, and attended Basic Training at
Fort Dix, New Jersey. Acting as a guide-on carrier, she
was injured when another carrier grounded a guide iron through
her foot into the ground. She still has the scar, and now
serves as a member of the Virginia Air National Guard.
As of 1980, at least sixty Native American women were serving
in the Eskimo Scouts, a special unit of the Alaska National
Guard. The Eskimo Scouts patrol the western coastline of
Alaska and the islands separating Alaska and Russia. The
Scouts are the only members of the National Guard who have
a continuous active duty mission. This unit was organized
during World War II, and the wives of scout battalion members
have always been involved in patrol missions. Women were
admitted as official members in 1976, and only then began
to receive pay, benefits and recognition for their work.
Scouts currently patrol ice flows in the Bering Straits,
monitor movements on the tundra, and perform Arctic search
and rescue efforts as required.
American women lost their lives in the service of their
Matthews of Cherokee, North Carolina, joined the
Navy in the late 1970s and trained as an Aviation Machinist's
Mate. She died while serving in California in 1985. Terri
Ann Hagen, a former Army medic, was a member of the Army
National Guard when she was killed fighting a fire on Storm
King Mountain in Colorado in 1994.
As of 1994, 1,509 Native American women and
Native Alaskan women were serving in the military forces of
the United States. Thousands more have served in the military