AMERICAN WOMEN VETERANS
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
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 eras.
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
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 military honors.
Fourteen 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
Native American women served in the military during World
War II. Elva (Tapedo) Wale, a Kiowa, left her Oklahoma
reservation to join the
Women'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. Beatrice (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.
Alida (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.
First 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.
Private Minnie 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."
Ola 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 country's call. 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.
Verna 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 messages.
Pearl 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.
Linda Woods 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.
Barbara Monteiro 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.
Darlene Yellowcloud 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
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.
Native American women lost their lives
in the service of their nation. Katherine 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 over time.