Pearl Harbor before Dec.7, 1941 and Native Americans after Dec.7, 1941

By Roy Cook

It was the native Hawaiians who originally called the Pearl Harbor area, "Wai Momi," meaning "Water of Pearl". It was also called "Pu’uloa". Pearl Harbor was the home of the shark goddess Ka'ahupahau and her brother (or son) Kahi’uka. The gods were said to live in a cave at the entrance to Pearl Harbor and guard the waters against man-eating sharks.

Ka’ahupahau is said to have been born of human parentage but to have changed into a shark. These gods were friendly to man and it is said that the people of Ewa whom they protected would keep their backs scraped clean of barnacles. The ancients depended on Ka’ahupahau to protect the harbor's abundant fish ponds from intruders.

The harbor was teeming with pearl-producing oysters until the late 1800's. In the early days following the arrival of Captain James Cook, Pearl Harbor was not considered a suitable port due to a coral bar obstructing the Harbor entrance.

Pearl Harbor was acquired as part of the reciprocity treaty between the United States of America and the Hawaiian Kingdom of 1875. Following the government’s convention, on December 6, 1884 and ratified in 1887, the United States obtained exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor as part of the agreement to allow Hawaiian sugar to enter the United States duty free.

The Spanish American War (1898) and the need for the United States to have a permanent presence in the Pacific both contributed to the decision to annex Hawaii.

Following annexation, work began to dredge the channel and improve the harbor for the use of large navy ships. Congress authorized the creation of a naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1908. By 1914 other bases housing U.S. Marines as well as Army personnel were constructed in the area around Pearl Harbor.

Expansion work at Pearl Harbor was not, however, without controversy. When construction began in 1909 on the first dry dock, many native Hawaiians were outraged.

According to Hawaiian history, the shark god lived in the coral caves under the site. Several collapses of the dry dock construction were attributed by the engineers to "seismic disturbances" but the native Hawaiians were sure that it was the shark god who was angry. The engineers devised a new plan and a kahuna was summoned to appease the god. Finally, after years of construction problems, the dry dock was opened in August of 1919.

In 1917 Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor was purchased for joint Army and Navy use in the development of military aviation. Over the following two decades, as Japan's presence in the world as a major industrial and military power began to grow, the United States began to keep more of its ships at Pearl Harbor.

In addition, the Army's presence was also increased. As the navy assumed full control of Ford Island, the Army was in need of a new base for its Air Corp station in the Pacific, thus construction of Hickam field in 1935.

Following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Osage tribesman and Army Col. Clarence Tinker was promoted to brigadier in 1941. He was promoted to major general in 1942 and was shortly thereafter killed in action while leading a group of LB-30 bombers near Wake Island. Oklahoma's Tinker Air Force Base is named after him.

On the Qualla Boundary reservation in the Mountains of North Carolina, every eligible young man in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians registered for the draft. Eventually, 321 North Carolina Cherokee served in the military, with 123 enlisting and 198 getting drafted. Unlike African Americans, who served in segregated units, Indians served in integrated units throughout all branches of the military. While Cherokee got along well enough with their comrades, white stereotypes about Indians often worked against them. Commanders imagined that Indians possessed some ingrained warrior ability that enabled them to shoot straighter, walk quieter, and fight braver than other soldiers. This perception meant that Indians often got the most dangerous combat assignments. By the war’s end, eleven North Carolina Cherokee had died in action—five in Europe and six in the Pacific—while a twelfth died stateside. Seven more were wounded in action. Besides a number of Purple Hearts, North Carolina Cherokee earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Silver Stars.

In eastern North Carolina, the Lumbee and other smaller Indian tribes supported the war effort with just as much fervor. Back then, the Lumbee tribe was not officially federally recognized. They passed their own draft act and sent their young braves into National Guard units. Women took over traditional men duties on the reservation. They served in every branch of the service, in every theater of operations. In 1942 Thomas Oxendine, a Lumbee from Pembroke, became the first American Indian to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and the first to be commissioned as a navy pilot. He served on the USS Mobile as an observation pilot, rescued a downed flier, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Eastern North Carolina Indians fought in countless battles, were some of the first Americans to cross the Rhine River in Germany, and helped liberate the Nazi concentration camps. At least twenty-five Lumbee from Robeson County died in the line of duty.

All across Indian America, in spite of years of inefficient and often corrupt bureaucratic management of Indian affairs, Native Americans stood ready to fight the "white man's war." American Indians overcame past disappointment, resentment, and suspicion to respond to their nation's need in World War II. It was a grand show of loyalty on the part of Native Americans and many Indian recruits were affectionately called "chiefs." Native Americans responded to America's call for soldiers because they understood the need to defend one's own land, and they understood fundamental concepts of fighting for life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

Even the traditional Pueblo tribes, whose members exhibited a historical suspicion of the white world, contributed 213 men, 10 percent of their population of 2,205, to the armed forces. Wisconsin Chippewa at the Lac Oreilles Reservation contributed 100 men from a population of 1,700. Nearly all the able-bodied Chippewa at the Grand Portage Reservation enlisted. Blackfeet Indians enlisted in droves. Navajo Indians responded by sending 3,600 into military service; 300 lost their lives. Many volunteered from the Fort Peck Sioux-Assiniboine Reservation in Montana, the descendants of the Indians that defeated Custer. The Iroquois took it as an insult to be called up under compulsion. They passed their own draft act and sent their young braves into National Guard units.

There were many disappointments as well-intentioned Indians were rejected for the draft. Years of poverty, illiteracy, ill- health, and general bureaucratic neglect had taken its toll. A Chippewa Indian was furious when rejected because he had no teeth. "I don't want to bite 'em," he said, "I just want to shoot 'em!" Another Indian, rejected for being too fat to run, said that he had not come to run, but to fight.

Well-known American humorist, Will Rogers Cherokee from Oklahoma, said, "The United States never broke a treaty with a foreign government and never kept one with the Indians." Nevertheless, the government of the United States found no more loyal citizens than their own "first Americans." When President Roosevelt mobilized the country and declared war on the Axis Powers, it seemed as if he spoke to each citizen individually. Therefore, according to the Indians' way of perceiving, all must be allowed to participate. About 40,000 Indian men and women, aged 18 to 50, left reservations for the first time to find jobs in defense industries. This migration led to new vocational skills and increased cultural sophistication and awareness in dealings with non-Indians.

The purchase of Treasury Stamps and Bonds by Indian tribes and individuals was considerable. By 1944, war bond sales to Indians had reached $50 million. Indians also made generous donations to the Red Cross and other organizations, giving what they had. All of this from a minority group at the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

Some 2,500 Navajos helped construct the Fort Wingate Ordnance Depot in New Mexico, and Pueblo Indians helped build the Naval Supply Depot in Utah. Because of their hunting, survival, and navigational skills in the harsh regions of the north, Alaskan Indians were involved in territorial defense. The entire football team at the Santa Fe Indian School volunteered for the armed forces after the 1942 homecoming game.

Women took over traditional men duties on the reservation, manning fire lookout stations, and becoming mechanics, lumberjacks, farmers, and delivery personnel. Indian women, although reluctant to leave the reservation, worked as welders in aircraft plants. Many Indian women gave their time as volunteers for American Women Volunteer Service, Red Cross, and Civil Defense. They also tended livestock, grew victory gardens, canned food, and sewed uniforms. A wealthy Kiowa woman in Oklahoma sent a $1,000 check to the Navy Relief signed with her thumbprint. Alaskan women trapped animals to earn war bond money. By 1943, the YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) estimated that 12,000 young Indian women had left the reservation to work in defense industries. By 1945, an estimated 150,000 Native Americans had directly participated in industrial, agricultural, and military aspects of the American war effort.

The Indian Service sent 1,119 of its 7,000 employees into military service. Of these, 22 died, while 7 won Silver or Bronze Stars. In 1942, the Japanese captured 45 Aleuts on Attu. Only 24 returned from captivity in Japan, where they had worked in clay pits.

The federal government designated some Indian lands and even tribes themselves as essential natural resources, appropriating tribal minerals, lumber, and lands for the war effort. After the war, Native Americans discovered that their service for the war effort had depleted their resources without reward. Indian lands provided essential war materials such as oil, gas, lead, zinc, copper, vanadium, asbestos, gypsum, and coal. The Manhattan Project used Navajo helium in New Mexico to make the atomic bomb. The war effort depleted the Blackfeet's tribal resources of oil.

Marines were "elite" fighters and welcomed Indians because of their warrior reputation. The Navajo marines ended their ceremonial chants by singing the Marine Corps Hymn in Navajo. Their eloquence came naturally to Indians because theirs is an oral culture. Navajos formed special all-Navajo Marine Corps signal units that encoded messages in their native tongue. Taking advantage of the flexibility and range of the Navajo language, they worked out translations of military and naval terms so that orders and instructions could be transmitted by voice over the radio in a code the Japanese were never able to break. They were used first in late 1942 on Guadalcanal. Special Code Talker units were eventually assigned to each of the Marine Corps' six Pacific divisions. By war's end, over 400 Navajo had served as Code Talkers. Untold numbers of Marines owe their lives to the Navajo Code Talkers.

Indians also excelled at basic training. Maj. Lee Gilstrop of Oklahoma, who trained 2 ,000 Native Americans at his post, said, "The Indian is the best damn soldier in the Army." Their talents included bayonet fighting, marksmanship, scouting, and patrolling. Native Americans took to commando training; after all, their ancestors invented it. One Sioux soldier, Kenneth Scisson of South Dakota, became an American commando unit's leading German-killer. On a single patrol, Scisson added ten notches to his Garand rifle. Native Americans endured thirst and lack of food better than the average soldier. They had an acute sense of perception and excellent endurance, along with superior physical coordination.

Indians first saw action in the Pacific theater. Over 300 Indians, including a descendant of the famed Apache chief Geronimo, took part in the defense of Bataan and Corregidor. Over 2,000 Indian farmers, workers, and businessmen in Oklahoma and New Mexico trained and fought as part of the 45th Infantry Division for 511 days of combat in Italy and Central Europe. The "Thunderbirds" had the highest proportion of Indian soldiers of any division, but Indians served conspicuously in the 4th and 88th Divisions, the l9th and 180th Infantry Regiments, and the 147th Field Artillery Regiment, and in many Oklahoma National Guard units.

For Native Americans, World War II signaled a major break from the past. Many Indians in the military made a decent living for the first time in their lives. By 1944, the average Indian's annual income was $2,500, up two and one-half times since 1940. Military life provided a steady job, money, status, and a taste of the white man's world. Indians leaned assertiveness they could use in their fight for equal rights after the war.

During World War II more than 44,000 Native Americans saw military service. They served on all fronts in the conflict and were honored by receiving numerous Purple Hearts, Air Medals, Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze Stars, Silver Stars, Distinguished Service Crosses, and three Congressional Medals of Honor. Indian participation in World War II was so extensive that it still is a part of American Indian folklore and popular culture.