MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt;"> November is National Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month. This month celebrates the contributions made by Native Americans to the history and foundation to the U.S.
According to the Department of Defense, there are 567 federally recognized Native American and Alaska Native tribes and more than 100 state-recognized tribes across the United States. Each has their own unique history, beliefs, governance structure and culture.
Since the arrival of European settlers in America, Native Americans have preserved their culture and heritage. Because of their heritage, Native Americans were crucial to the armed forces.
Today, over 22,000 Native Americans serve in the American Armed Forces, making up 1.2 percent of the military population. According to the Department of Defense, there were 130,802 Native American veterans as of March 2015.
During World War I and World War II, hundreds of Native Americans joined the United States Armed Forces and used words from their traditional tribal languages as weapons. The United States military asked them to develop secret battle communications based on their languages in which America’s enemies were never able to decipher. After World War II they were known as code talkers.
Their job was to send coded messages about troop movements, enemy positions, and other critical information on the battlefield. Some Code Talkers translated messages into their Native languages and relayed them to another tribal member. Others developed a special code within their languages that they used in combat to send important messages.
The Navajo code talkers, mainly Marines, were commended for their skill, speed, and accuracy demonstrated throughout the war. At the Battle of Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. These six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error.
According to the historical archives from the Parris Island Museum, Nearly 25,000 Native Americans fought in World War II. Out of the more than 3,400 Medal of Honors awarded to the nation’s service men and women, 28 of them have been given to Native Americans.
During the Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month, commanders are encouraged to take time to increase awareness and celebrate the service and contributions of Native Americans to our country and Corps.