November welcomes cooler weather, federal and state elections in even-numbered years, a national day of Thanksgiving and the celebration and recognition of Native American Heritage Month. This Friday marks another tribute, one that extends beyond the lines of culture, politics and race – Nov. 11 is Veteran’s Day.
Native Americans have a rich history of military service and have fought to protect our Nation, even as tribes were battling for their own freedoms and rights. Indeed, Native Americans fought as soldiers in the Civil War, World War I and other conflicts years before they were even granted U.S. citizenship in 1924.
As a community, the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians believe in and practice a tradition of service, sacrifice, leadership, and bravery. Our tribe’s leader Santos Manuel courageously led his fellow tribal members away from their mountain lands to settle in another portion of their aboriginal territories near present-day Highland in order to escape persecution and death in the 19th century.
Riverside and San Bernardino counties are home to approximately 2,000 Native American veterans, and we are extremely proud of their service and the legacy they are building for future generations. In their honor, San Manuel is proud to participate in constructing a monument at the Riverside National Cemetery honoring the contributions of all Native American veterans and servicemen and women.
As a people, Native American military heroes are numerous. It is estimated that 12,000 American Indians served in the United States military in World War I. During World War II, 44,000 Native Americans served the country with valor, including codetalkers from a number of Indian tribes who sent messages using their ancient native languages across military radios on the battlefields.
When Iwo Jima was won, Pima Indian Ira Hayes was one of the six Marines who famously raised the U. S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, an image of sacrifice and victory that was later commemorated in both a U.S. postage stamp and the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va.
Cherokee Billy Walkabout, an Airborne Ranger of the 101st, is believed to be the most decorated Indian soldier of the Vietnam War. He received the Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, five Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars.
Twenty-eight Native Americans have earned the highest military distinction of all, the Medal of Honor, including Ernest Childers and Jack C. Montgomery, both from tribes in Oklahoma, who were honored for risking their lives above and beyond the call of duty during World War II.
Today, nearly 190,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives are military veterans, according to the Department of Defense. As Cheyenne Korean War veteran, three-term U.S. Congressman, and two-term U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell said, “There [is] a camaraderie that transcends ethnicity when you serve your country overseas in wartime.”
Indeed, the issues that affect our veterans are cross-cultural — they extend beyond ethnicity, political philosophy, faith, socio-economic status and educational background. From mental health issues and physical rehabilitation to substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness and job training, veterans need our unified care and support. It is the true way we can show our gratitude for their service and sacrifice.
On Nov. 11, we honor and give thanks to the veterans of all races and backgrounds who have fought to protect our freedoms, just as Native Americans have honored warriors throughout history. Let us keep our troops who are deployed overseas in our thoughts and prayers daily. Join me in giving thanks to the thousands of men and women who fight for our freedom and the quality of life we all enjoy in our community.
James Ramos, M.B.A., is the Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians. He is also chairman of the California Native American Heritage Commission, member of the California State Board of Education and trustee of the San Bernardino Community College Board of Trustees.