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Shoshone World War II

 
Like many Indian nations, many members of the Northwestern Shoshone, Washakie Community left during World War II. In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "This generation has a rendezvous with destiny." When Roosevelt said that he had no idea of how much World War II would make his prophecy ring true. Over seventy years later, Americans are remembering the sacrifices of that generation, which took up arms in defense of the Nation. Part of that generation was a neglected minority, Native American Indians, who flocked to the colors in defense of their country. No group that participated in World War II made a greater per capita contribution, and no group was changed more by that 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.
In spite of years of inefficient and often corrupt bureaucratic management of Indian affairs, Native Americans and 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. 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. Native Americans also excelled at basic training. Maj. Lee Gilstrop of Oklahoma, who trained 2,000 Native Americans at his post, said, "The Indian are the best damn soldiers in the Army." Their talents included bayonet fighting, marksmanship, scouting, and patrolling. Native Americans took to commando training; after all, their ancestors invented it.
So 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 the country and 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. Many members went to work in the defense industries, and others went to war. For some, it was a chance to see the world, for others, a chance to improve their lives with a steady income.
Women took over traditional men' s 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’s' Volunteer Service, Red Cross, and Civil Defense. They also tended livestock, canned food, and sewed uniforms. 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.
For Native Americans, World War II signaled a major break from the past. Many Northwestern Shoshones in the military made a decent living for the first time in their lives. By 1944, the average Native American’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 modernizing world.
The war, therefore, provided new opportunities for the Northwestern Shoshone, and these opportunities disrupted old patterns. The wartime economy and military service took thousands of Native Americans away from the reservations. Many of these Native Americans settled into the mainstream society, adapting permanently to the cities and to a non-Indian way of life. Moreover, thousands returned to the reservation even after they had proved themselves capable of making the adjustment to white America.
World War II became a turning point for both Native Americans and Caucasians because its impact on each was so great and different. Whites believed that World War II had completed the process of Indian integration into mainstream American society. Large numbers of Indians, on the other hand, saw for the first time the non-Indian world at close range. It both attracted and repelled them. The positive aspects included a higher standard of living, with education, health care, and job opportunities. The negatives were the lessening of tribal influence and the threat of forfeiting the security of the reservation. Indians did not want equality with whites at the price of losing group identification. In sum, the war caused the greatest change in Indian life since the beginning of the reservation era and taught Native Americans they could aspire to walk successfully in two worlds.
A good deal of credit must go to the Native Americans for their outstanding part in America's victory in World War II. They sacrificed more than most, both individually and as a group. They left the land they knew to travel to strange places, where people did not always understand their ways. They had to forego the dances and rituals that were an important part of their life. They had to learn to work under non-Indian supervisors in situations that were wholly new to them. But in the process, Native Americans became Indian-Americans, not just American Indians.

 

 
  Brigham Tribal Office
707 N. Main Street
Brigham City, UT 84302
Phone: 800-310-8241
Local: 435.734.2286 | Fax: 435.734.0424
Pocatello Tribal Office
353 East Lander
Pocatello, ID 83201
Phone: 208-478-5712
Fax: 208.478.5713
 
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