Native Americans, also known as American Indians, First Americans, Indigenous Americans, and other terms, are the Indigenous peoples of the United States, including Hawaii and territories of the United States at times, and are limited to the mainland at others. There are 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States, with roughly half associated with Indian reservations. Native Americans are Indigenous tribes from the contiguous United States and Alaska Natives. But did you know what was the role of native Americans during the Second World War?
About 20% of the Six Nations tribes’ population fought in WW2. German codebreakers were baffled by the Choctaw language, and the Iroquois, who had officially declared war on Germany during WW1 and never made peace, officially declared war on Germany again during WW2.
Native American Collaboration with the United States
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many Native Americans joined the armed forces or went to work in the war plants. According to one survey, most Native Americans in the service enlisted voluntarily by 1942.
The Iroquois Confederacy declared war on Germany in 1917. They had not made peace by the start of WWII and were more than ready to fight. Other tribes were also prepared. Some were willing to stand in the rain for hours in order to sign their draft cards. Others arrived armed with rifles, ready to fight. It is estimated that one-quarter of the Mescalero Apaches voluntarily enlisted. This was true for many of the remaining tribes across the country. These Native Americans were willing to put aside their previous disappointments and resentments. They understood the significance of defending one’s territory.
By the middle of 1942, the annual enlistment rate for Native Americans was around 7,500. The yearly average had risen to 22,000 by the beginning of 1945. Selective Service reported in 1942 that 99 percent of all eligible Native Americans, healthy males between the ages of 21 and 44, had registered for the draft. Approximately 5,000 Indians were in the Service on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. By the end of the war, the number had risen to over 44,000 both on and off-reservation. This accounted for more than ten percent of the Indian population during the war. (Source: Armed Forces Museum)
What Happened After the War?
After the war, many Native Americans remained in the mainstream, instead of returning to the reservation. Leaving their traditional culture did not mean they were rejecting their heritage. Instead, they began to identify and cope with the differences they saw between themselves and the white man. In contrast, others chose to return to their reservations despite learning to make the necessary adjustments to live in white America. Despite a higher standard of living and more job and educational opportunities, these Indians refused to give up the security of the reservation.
Native Americans played an outstanding role in America’s WWII victory despite the challenges they faced as individuals and as a group. They left the comforts of their only home and traveled to faraway strange places where people did not understand their traditions. They had to give up their dances and rituals and learn how to work under a white man. Despite this, Native Americans learned to adapt to their various World War II roles, and as a result, they transitioned from being American Indians to Indian Americans. (Source: Armed Forces Museum)