ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Almost a century ago, in 1924, Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act. It wasn’t until 1986, that President Ronald Reagan signed into law, a proclamation that authorized American Indian week. In 1990, President George H. Bush extended the observance to a month long celebration, renaming it National American Indian Month.
During the month of November, Anniston Army Depot will recognize National American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month by acknowledging the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute theme commemorating the 75th Anniversary of WWII, “Honoring the Past, Securing the Future”. At this time, we pay tribute to the American Indians and Alaskan Natives who demonstrated selfless service and sacrifice during WWII. Over 44,000 Native American Indians, from a total population at the time of around 350,000, served on active duty, and over 6,000 Alaskan Natives served as Alaskan Territorial Guards during WWII.
On the home front, many American Indian men and women bought an estimate of $50 million in treasury stamps and war bonds, including making many donations to the American Red Cross. One of the United States’ most acclaimed combat units was the 45th Infantry Division “Thunderbirds” from Oklahoma.
The unit got its name from their distinctive insignia redesigned as a tribute to Native Americans in 1939. The Thunderbird is a prevalent Native American symbol used in the Southwestern United States. The Thunderbirds are most widely recognized for their assistance in the taking of Munich and liberating the Nazi’s infamous Dachau death camp. From this unit, three Native American soldiers received the Medal of Honor; Jack Montgomery (Cherokee), Ernest Childers (Muskogee), and Van T. Barefoot (Choctaw). Additionally, several Native American tribes, like the Navajo, who were known as “Code Talkers” played a crucial role with U.S. intelligence during WWII.
One of the most recognized groups of “Code Talkers” was a tribe from the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America called the Tlingit* tribe. Tlingit code talkers used the Tlingit language to transmit sensitive messages that the enemy was never able to crack. In November of 2013, Congress awarded silver medals, posthumously, to Tlingit code talkers Robert Davis Sr., Richard Bean Sr., George Lewis Jr., and brothers Haney and Mark Jacobs. For many Native Americans, this was the first time they left their reservations and families.
Whether by serving our nation directly through the military, or indirectly by seeking jobs with the defense industry, American Indians and Alaskan Natives have played and continue to play a key role in their contributions to our country. Please join Anniston Army Depot as we celebrate November as National Native American and Alaskan Native Heritage month.