“Why We Serve”
Article by Ron Cook Jr., Post Commander, Iroquois Post #1587
Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces chronicles the generations of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians who have served in the United States Armed Forces during every military conflict for hundreds of years. Created in conjunction with the National Native American Veterans Memorial at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC, this exhibition honors the diversity of Indigenous people and the complexity of each Native Veteran’s experience. In doing so, it challenges stereotypes commonly applied to Native service members and pays tribute to the men and women whose contributions shaped wars and the country’s history.
Each diversified experience has been showcased through fearless bravery, honor, and distinction of the Native American Warrior who currently serve, who have served and for those who have sacrificed in the U.S. Armed Forces often in extraordinary numbers since the American Revolution.
This year’s Veteran Day message will introduce you to some who served, celebrate their contributions, and to inspire you to contemplate these unique experiences.
Seneca Nation Veterans from the Iroquois Post 1587 were invited to participate in the unveiling procession ceremony of the National Native American Veterans Memorial back on February 26, 2020, but due to COVID restriction in Washington DC the event was postponed until this year (2022). After reconfirming the Post’s invitation on May 15, 2022, an official announcement was made during our SNI Memorial Day 2022 ceremony (May 30, 2022) and we would like to present some of these extraordinary experiences for Veterans Day 2022.
This day stems from Armistice Day (1st anniversary of the end of WWI), which is a day to recognize our nation’s Veterans. I would like to share some local history about the Native American Warriors from the New York State area. Here are some statistics from the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian.
- 31,000 American Indian and Alaska Native men and women are on active duty today, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world.
- 140,000 living Native Americans are Veterans. 11.5 percent of these Veterans are female, as compared to 8 percent of all other ethnicities.
- 18.6% Native Americans served during the post-9/11 period in a higher percentage than veterans of other ethnicities, 18.6 percent vs. 14 percent, respectively.
- They are Purple Heart recipients, Bronze Star medal honorees, and many have been recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award of the United States.
- Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian (https://americanindian.si.edu/nnavm/heroes/)
The Seneca Nation Warrior has served our nation in all major conflicts: from the Civil War, through WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and in the current Global War on Terrorism. All of these conflicts have a significance for the Seneca Nation and the Nation’s Veterans. Throughout the history of the United States, Native Americans have served in the military at higher rates than any other ethnicity. Among the reasons for this phenomenon are those cited by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration for Children & Families:
…serving in the military became a rite of passage for many young native men…[and] women…there were many factors, not the least being the tradition many tribes have of protecting the community. These tribes continue to view service, sacrifice, and courage as important values and part of an individual’s journey to becoming a leader, protector, and agent of change for his/her family or tribe. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/
The Civil War was no exception, with over 20,000 Native warriors taking part in the conflict. The bravery of these warriors went beyond their service on the battlefield: their very participation in this endeavor was fraught was danger of another sort:
At a time when fear of removal from tribal homelands permeated Native American communities, many native people served in the military during the Civil War. These courageous men fought with distinction, knowing they might jeopardize their freedom, unique cultures, and ancestral lands if they ended up on the losing side of the white man’s war. https://www.alexandriava.gov/
For the Seneca Nation, our association with the Civil War has a very personal connection. Ely S. Parker was a Seneca who studied engineering, law and served as a diplomat and translator for the Seneca Nation. During the Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Army, ultimately serving as adjutant to General Ulysses S. Grant. Parker was present with Grant at the surrender of the Confederate forces in 1865 and, as Grant’s secretary, wrote the terms of surrender. He went on to serve as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first Native American to hold this office. It is, therefore, fitting that the Civil War is one of the conflict highlights for today’s recognition.
After WWII, 34 of our decorated Seneca Warriors returned home with a sense of duty and a global perspective of continued service, in doing so they established an all-native American Legion Charter which is known as Iroquois Post 1587. This Charter has played a crucial role of being advocates for improved Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation benefits, which is still thriving as a successful veteran’s organization today after being established 76 years ago.
One extraordinary original charter member is Basil G. Williams who joined the Armed forces during WWII and served honorably in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the Navy’s newly established Construction Battalion as a Seabee where he received commendations for leading a rigging team of 20 sailors to repair critical base infrastructures at the New Orleans Naval Base. Basil received orders to deploy to the Pacific Theater in support of Wartime combat operations at an advance base in Shanghai, China. Basil served as Iroquois Post Commander for five terms and was credited for building the original Post clubhouse of logs cut from the forest. He also initiated lacrosse and Little Loop Football programs and organize what is still known today as the Gowanda Little League Baseball Association. A special dedication of the Legion baseball field was made on August 05, 1989, as the Basil G. Williams Baseball Field in recognition of his several decades of selfless service to community.
From a modern warfare time period, the Vietnam war is an era of great presence for the Seneca Nation. According to the U.S. Census, almost one-quarter (24.4%) of Veterans from the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Territory and half (50.6%) of Veterans from the Cattaraugus Territory served in the military during the Vietnam era (2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Table B21002).
A Vietnam Warrior to highlight and honor on this Veterans Day is William “Bill” Jones from the Allegany Territory who shared an intense combat situation where he found himself pinned down by enemy fire and with a badly injured comrade to which he without fear of his own safety scooped up his injured comrade and carried him to a medical evacuation helicopter before it departed saving the Soldier’s life. Bill would receive the Vietnam Gallantry Cross Medal with Palm for his individual heroic actions.
The Seneca Nation Warrior continues to actively participates in our Nation’s Armed Forces, committed to protect our homeland during time of War and faced physical and emotional challenges after the most recent Global War on Terrorism. As expressed by Anna Zogas, PhD candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Washington, in US Military Veterans’ Difficult Transitions Back to Civilian Life and the VA’s Response (Watson Institute of International & Public Affairs, Brown University, February 2017):
“Young veterans regularly observe that the military does an extremely effective job of training them to operate within the military, and an extremely poor job of reversing that training or preparing them before sending them back into civilian life.” As our Seneca Nation Warriors continue to serve, many will return home with the same challenges of integration, adjustment, transition, and expectation of empathy in acknowledging their selfless service and sacrifices made for our Nation and Country.”
The Seneca Nation of Indians makes time each summer to plan and execute a long-standing tradition of honoring its Veterans. An example of this is the Marvin “Joe” Curry Veterans Pow Wow, an annual event held at the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Territory to celebrate our Seneca and visiting Native Veterans, as well as the sacrifices made by Gold & Blue Star families. The pow wow, which draws over 5,000 spectators and over 400 dancers and singers from all parts of the United States and Canada, commemorates the life and accomplishments of U.S. Navy Veteran Marvin “Joe” Curry.
Born at the Seneca Nation’s Cattaraugus Territory, the late Marvin “Joe” Curry is a member of the Snipe Clan and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1950 and served two tours of duty during the Korean War. Curry entered Naval Officer Candidate School in 1966 and graduated as a Chief Warrant Officer. He then went on to serve in the Vietnam War. During his active duty, Curry served on eight warships, including the USS Little Rock. He was also a skilled deep-sea salvage and submarine rescue diver.
There are approximately 398 Seneca Veterans residing from the Allegany Territory and approximately 158 from the Cattaraugus Territory (American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2017, Table S2101). Over ½ (51.5%) of Veterans at Allegany and over ¾ (75.3%) of Veterans at Cattaraugus served between the Vietnam era and the present time. (See table below.)
Percentage of Seneca Veterans by Period of Service
Allegany | Cattaraugus
Gulf War (9-2001 and later): 16.3% | 12.0%
Gulf War (8-1990 to 8-2001): 10.8% | 12.7%
Viet Nam-era: 24.4% | 50.6%
Korean War: 13.8% | 0.0%
World War II: 6.0% | 8.9%
*(American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2017, Table S2101)
The Seneca Nation Warrior continues to actively participate in our Nation’s Armed Forces, committed to protect our homeland from Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf War into the most recent Global War on Terrorism. This conflict has produced – and will continue to produce – the most recent group of Seneca Warrior Veterans. As part of our Veterans Day message, we now proudly honor our most recent and active group of Warriors:
Josette Wheeler, U.S. Air Force Reserve
Jonas Williams, U.S. Navy
Rebecca Cook, U.S. Navy
Everette Golden, U.S. Marine Corps
Rachel Mercado, U.S. Army Reserves
Irissa Cooper, U.S. Army
Sheridan Isaac, U.S. Marine Corps
Quinton Stahlman, U.S. Army
The Iroquois Post 1587 elected officers hold a combined military service exceedingly over 150 years of experience and we have been working hard over the past three and half years making tremendous strides in Veteran Affairs & Rehabilitation, National Security & Preparedness, Student Achievement Empowerment Initiatives, and Children and Youth Programs.
These areas of responsibilities are taken to heart, and we carry this pride with us every day in the work that we do for our Veterans and for our community, as well as for our children and youth. These positive strides bring more opportunities for us to improve the quality-of-life and taking the lead in advocating for our Veterans. We seek only personal reward without compensation for as a Veteran we understand that SERVICE comes before SELF and SELFLESS SERVICE means care for others before one’s own self always. That is at the heart of all Warriors.
I’m proud to have served for almost three decades and proud to have deployed with all of our Nation’s Warriors in three different combat tours and to have served alongside of so many humble, courageous, and honorable heroes; experiencing first-hand that depth, selflessness, and commitment that our troops possess not only for our country but for each other – and that’s where that unbreakable bond that exists between Veterans that spans generations.
We would not be the great Nation today without our Veterans, their service, and above all to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. That’s why on this Veterans Day and on every day, we honor and pay tribute to all our Warriors. Regardless of when and where they served, it’s for the sacrifices and dedication of our nation’s 23 million veterans and over 2 million service members who are still actively serving both here at home and places all around the world.
Our veteran’s selflessness, dedication, and commitment will never be forgotten. As a community, we must continue our fight to empower and honor our Warriors, who gave all that they could, often at a great cost. They stood up, put themselves on the line for our nation, and please know that they have served courageously for our nation and the Seneca people honors and salutes all of our Veterans. Nya:weh!
Upcoming Veterans Day Programs
Veterans Day Ceremony at Seneca Niagara – November 11th – 11am
Veterans Day Remembrance at Red House Memorial Chapel – November 13th – 6pm