By Mrs. Tawny M Dotson (Army Medicine)November 29, 2010
One might think that Dr. Barney Old Coyote's service in the Army Air Corps during World War II was breaking traditions of sorts. In reality, he was doing what his ancestors had always done by enlisting to fight alongside the white people.
"My ancestry has not fought against the white people," Old Coyote said. "Instead we fought alongside them. So it is that when my brother and I joined the military in World War II, we were keeping up a tradition of Crow Indians wearing the American uniform."
Old Coyote enlisted in the Army Air Corps at the age of 17 shortly after Pearl Harbor. It took him a few days to convince his mother to provide him with the written permission necessary to join as a minor. He spent just over three years in the Army Air Corps serving as a gunner on the A-20 Havoc and the B-17 Flying Fortress. In those three years he became the most decorated American Indian in World War II with 17 awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with 14 oak leaf clusters. In fact, he garnered those Air Medals on his 72 combat missions in the two aircraft.
"Time was moving fast in those days. A whole lifetime went by you in less than a month. Everything was compacted in those few years that World War II was here," Old Coyote said.
Old Coyote was the featured guest at Madigan Healthcare System's annual National American Indian Heritage event Nov. 15. He discussed his time working with the Army Air Corps during World War II where he served alongside his brother Henry Old Coyote and was a "Windtalker" in Europe and Northern Africa. As a "Windtalker" Old Coyote spoke the Crow language to communicate strategic war information since experts were unable to decipher the language.
"Those were long missions as we would fly over Germany and if we changed targets or flew around cloud cover, we would break radio silence and we would talk Crow. We were called 'code talkers' but we didn't talk code at all. We talked the Crow language which was better than a code anyway," said Old Coyote.
During the War, Old Coyote and his brother served in the 62nd Bomb Group and would separate for long flights over Germany. When strategic information, such as flight paths, needed to be shared he would speak on the radio with his brother to pass along the message without interception from the Germans.
"We talked like we were sitting next to each other. We wouldn't use German or English words. We used Crow all the way through," Old Coyote said.
According to Old Coyote, during World War II only around 11,000 people spoke the Crow language. The language remains an endangered language today as he estimates only around 1,800 Crow Indians speak the language.
Since his time in the War, Old Coyote has focused on cultural, religious, language and preservation of the Crow Indian traditions. In fact, he wrote a book entitled Way of the Warrior with the help of his brother to record stories and traditions in Crow. Old Coyote's granddaughter, Phenocia Bauerle, worked with Old Coyote to translate the stories and published them in 2003. Old Coyote went on to continue his education and serve as a teacher of Native American studies. He has served in the Interior Department and continues to practice and disseminate Crow values, ideals and cultures.