By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
CHOCTAW, Miss., He didn't call it patriotism, but that's
exactly what it was when Frank Henry joined the Army at age
17 in November 1944. Though his people were among the first
to inhabit this country, he wasn't a citizen then and didn't
have a draft card or any of the other things citizens have.
But he still wanted to do something to help "his"
country during World War II. He asked his mother to sign paperwork
so he could join the Army and she agreed. Being a member of
the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians meant Henry had none
of the privileges of citizenship, but, "The war was going
on and I wanted to do something to help out," he said.
"Indians were not supposed to go in the military back
then," said the 74-year- old war veteran. "The military
was mainly for whites. My category was white instead of Indian.
I don't know why they did that. Even though Indians weren't
citizens of this country, couldn't register to vote, didn't
have a draft card or anything, they took us anyway.
"Here (Mississippi) it didn't matter because our boys
were dying on the front line and they needed some more,"
Henry noted. "Right here in this county, a lot of good
young men didn't go because they knew the politicians. I didn't
have to go, but I wanted to."
After basic training at Camp Blanding, Fla., Henry became
an infantryman and was assigned as a machine gunner and ammunition
carrier in a heavy equipment company in the 78th Division.
He went to Europe in January 1945.
"It took us a couple of weeks to get to Le Havre, France,
on a troop ship," Henry noted. "After a two-week
orientation, we took a troop train headed east and went to
"I was in the tail end of the war, but I was in the war
zone in a machine gunner company. The only action I saw was
guarding the rear echelon," Henry said from his bed in
the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indian Hospital. It was his
third week in the hospital after having his left leg amputated
because of diabetes complications.
"After the war, we followed the troops all the way to
Berlin and we were stationed there as an occupation force,"
he noted. "After being in the infantry for awhile, I
transferred to a medical unit and became an assistant ambulance
driver. I got away from that machine gun."
"P-F-C," Henry said with a chuckle when asked the
highest rank he made in the Army.
Noting that his cousin was killed in action, he said, "Indian
people fought for this country and we had a good reason --
because this is our country. But I wasn't granted citizenship
until after the war and I was attending Bacone Junior College
in (Muskogee) Oklahoma. They were not granting citizenship
to Indians in Mississippi at that time. I was all backward.
They should have given me a citizenship before I went in the
After getting an associate's degree in general education at
Bacone, Henry received a scholarship to attend the University
of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, where he earned a
bachelor's degree in elementary education. His first job after
college was as a community health educator at the old Indian
hospital in Philadelphia, Miss. About a year later, he was
promoted to acting administrator. He became the hospital director
after finishing his business administration studies.
"I worked at the hospital until the tribe took over the
operation," he said. "I then taught elementary school
for 12 years. I was 65 and decided to retire because my legs
started bothering me and I couldn't stand up to teach."
Henry said the discipline and leadership skills he learned
in the Army helped him in later life. "Discipline is
so important, and when the Army teaches it to you, you don't
forget it," he said. "I used it when I was running
the hospital. I knew how to supervise, be a leader and discipline
my subordinates. Those are some of the things I learned from
the service and it helped me a lot in civilian life."
There was no such thing as American Indian Heritage Month
when Henry was in the Army, but in his view, having a month
set aside to recognize the heritage and culture of Indians
is important for young people.
"They don't know our heritage and our history. They need
to know these things. They can always point a finger and say,
that person was in the service. Maybe I want to go into the
service," he said.
"The history of our Choctaw nation is taught in schools
on the reservation but we need to expand that," he continued.
"A lot of people, Choctaw and non- Indians, don't know
much about Indians serving in the military. We need to be
recognized, and people need to know that we have served our
"If war broke out today, we're going to have to go to
serve our country," Henry said.
Indian Frank Henry, a World War II veteran, said, "Indian
people fought for this country and we had a good reason
because this is our country, too." Photo by Rudi Williams.
photo for screen-resolution image.)