War and Peace

If it wasn’t for those support people, a lot of us wouldn’t be here. So whether they were stateside or whether they were in a country that was not combat, we need to recognize those people also. They were just as important to us and our well-being and our service time as anybody else.

Native American Vietnam veteran, National Native American Veterans Memorial consultation, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2016

Native Americans have contributed to the United States Armed Forces both on and off the battlefield. Whether deployed to combat zones, engaged in peacekeeping operations, or assigned to humanitarian relief missions, Native American servicemen and women have embraced the changing contours of military service.

Four Native American Women Warriors, wearing jingle dresses, leading the grand entry during a powwow

© 2014 Nicole Tung

The Native American Women Warriors leading the grand entry during a powwow in Pueblo, Colorado, June 14, 2014. From left: Sergeant First Class Mitchelene BigMan (Apsáalooke [Crow]/Hidatsa), Sergeant Lisa Marshall (Cheyenne River Sioux), Specialist Krissy Quinones (Apsáalooke), and Captain Calley Cloud (Apsáalooke), with Tia Cyrus (Apsáalooke) behind them.

The organization, founded by Mitchelene BigMan in 2012, raises awareness about Native American women veterans and provides resources for support services in health, employment, and education.

By adapting to the ever-changing needs of the armed forces, they have demonstrated an enduring commitment to military service in all its forms and helped to broaden the criteria that traditionally define tribal warriors.

Master Chief Melvin Kealoha Bell performing a final inspection at his retirement ceremony  (1958)

Bob Bell / USCG

Master Chief Melvin Kealoha Bell (Native Hawaiian, 1920–2018), performing a final inspection at his retirement ceremony following twenty years of active service (1938–1958), Boston, Massachusetts, December 31, 1958.

Born in Hilo, Hawai‘i, Bell learned his mechanical and electrical skills from his father. Later, as radioman for the Coast Guard, Petty Officer Bell learned communications and naval intelligence work while serving at Diamond Head Lighthouse on O‘ahu. When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941, Bell was on duty. He was the first to radio warnings to commercial vessels and military installations. After the attack, Bell focused on the war effort as a specialist in naval communications intelligence with the Fleet Radio Unit Pacific (FRUPAC). This work was critical to breaking Japanese codes and securing victories in the Pacific theater. While in the Coast Guard, Bell became the first Pacific Islander to become a chief petty officer, and was the first non-white coastguardsman to achieve the rank of master chief. After twenty years of active duty, he continued another forty-five as a civilian Coast Guard employee, finally retiring at age eighty-four with sixty-five years of service, one of the longest military careers in U.S. history.

Soldier Manuel Hernandez in uniform holding a rifle in the desert location of Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan

Manuel Hernandez

Manuel “Chief” Hernandez (Barona Band of Mission Indians), December 2001. Shortly after 9/11, West Point graduate Hernandez deployed to Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. This remote location was the staging point for several early military operations into Afghanistan.