Vietnam

We went into their country and killed them and took land that wasn’t ours. Just like the whites did to us . . . We shouldn’t have done that. Browns against browns. That screwed me up, you know.

Native American Vietnam veteran

Approximately 42,000 American Indians—one of four eligible Native people compared to about one of twelve non-Natives—served in the armed forces during the war in Vietnam (1964–75). Many were drafted, but a large number volunteered, often citing family and tribal traditions of service as a reason.

Soldier Harvey Pratt camouflaged and holding a knife in the Vietnam vegetation

Courtesy of Harvey Pratt

Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne and Arapaho, b. 1941) holds a Naga knife—a Southeast Asian knife used for cutting through vegetation—during the camouflage and evasion portion of ambush training for his service in Vietnam, 1963.

But Vietnam was a different war. Far from fighting conventional battles, U.S. forces searched endlessly, and often unsuccessfully, for an elusive enemy. Mines, booby traps, and ambushes took a terrible toll.

Like many other Vietnam veterans, American Indians were often deeply traumatized by what they experienced. Upon returning home, many found solace and healing in tribal welcome, honor, and healing ceremonies. Others found hope and purpose in advocating for treaty rights and tribal self-determination.

Donna Loring in uniform

Courtesy Donna Loring

Donna Loring, 1966.

Loring (Penobscot, b. 1948) served in 1967 and 1968 as a communications specialist at Long Binh Post in Vietnam, where she processed casualty reports from throughout Southeast Asia. She was the first female police academy graduate to become a police chief in Maine and served as the Penobscots’ police chief from 1984 to 1990. In 1999, Maine governor Angus King commissioned her to the rank of colonel and appointed her his advisor on women veterans’ affairs.

Two American Indian soldiers in uniform, including the artist T.C. Cannon, drinking beer in a Vietnamese bar

CD-33; Gift of Kenneth French Estate, 2000; Courtesy of the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe, NM; Joyce Cannon Yi, Executor of the T. C. Cannon Estate.

T. C. Cannon (Caddo/Kiowa, 1946–1978), On Drinkin’ Beer in Vietnam, 1971. Lithograph on paper, 48 × 76 cm. Collection of Museum of Contemporary Native Art.

This print depicts the artist and his friend from home, Kirby Feathers (Ponca), at a Vietnamese bar. Though stationed just miles apart, they only met up once while in Vietnam. Cannon was conflicted by his service; a symbol of that conflict—a mushroom cloud—appears in the background. Cannon was a member of the Kiowa Ton-Kon-Gah, or Black Leggings Warrior Society.

Soldier Ernie Wensaut standing with ammunication around his neck outside in Vietnam

Potawatomi Traveling Times

Ernie Wensaut (Forest County Potawatomi, b. ca. 1945) checking his gear before a patrol mission near the Cambodian border in the highlands of Vietnam in March 1967. A member of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 10th Infantry, 1st Division (also known as the “Big Red One”), Wensaut was an M-60 machine gunner whose weapon, nicknamed “The Pig,” fired 500 to 600 rounds per minute.