WWII Code Talker Soldiers
Ever since the run-up to the American Revolution, the continent’s indigenous peoples have joined forces to protect our shared homeland. Their willingness comes from a deeply rooted tradition of service to others.
In the War of 1812, they helped push back the British, who were making one last attempt to reclaim their former colonies. They enlisted in the Civil War, and again in the First World War – even though it would take until 1924 for them to receive U.S. citizenship status. They signed up to fight in the Second World War, and have continued to participate in every modern conflict since.
In fact, Native Americans serve in the armed forces at a higher rate than any other ethnic group, according to a study cited by the U.S. Mint. These veterans are Purple Heart recipients and Bronze Star honorees. They have also been recognized with the Medal of Honor, the highest military award of the United States.
Sacred eagle feathers
To pay tribute to the long arc of American Indian military contributions, the 2021 Native American dollar’s reverse features a spare, but dramatic motif of two eagle feathers. In Native American culture, the eagle is revered as the strongest and bravest of all birds. Its feathers are considered so sacred as to be given in honor of an achievement, especially military.
The 2021 one-year-only reverse design also shows five stars to symbolize five branches of the armed services: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy. With 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages, many tribal nations have a “Welcoming Home” ceremony to reintegrate their veterans back into the community. In that ceremony, the men and women are acknowledged for their service and sacrifice.
The February 16th release of the 2021 coin complements the November 11, 2020 dedication of the Smithsonian’s first national memorial to honor the military service of Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Warrior’s Circle of Honor ceremony took place virtually. It can be seen in this 17-minute video. Note the symbolic eagle feathers that are part of this permanent outdoor exhibit made of metal and stone.
More Native American military contributions
When the U.S. Mint launched a new small, golden dollar in 2000, it was with Shoshone guide Sacagawea on the obverse. She famously led the Lewis and Clark Expedition west from the northern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase, across the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. The year was 1804. The Corps of Discovery was under the direction of the U.S. Army. You can read more about Sacagawea and the expedition detailed on the Westward Journey nickels explored in this Heads & Tails blog.
In 2016, the U.S. Mint recognized over 30 Native American Tribes for their contributions to military intelligence in World Wars I and II. They provided Native American speakers for telephone squads on the French battlefields in the First World War. They sent code talkers to serve in North Africa, Italy, France and the Pacific in the Second World War. The most famous group was the Navajo code talkers stationed in the Pacific Theater.
The mint also acknowledged the more than 12,000 American Indians who served in World War I and over 44,000 in World War II. Their military contributions in both world wars were honored with a one-year-only reverse design on the 2016 dollar. The motif featured two helmets with two feathers that form a “V,” symbolizing victory and unity.
Did you miss the appearance of Chickasaw Tribal member John Herrington in the video above? He served as co-chair of the National Native American Veterans Memorial Honorary Committee. A naval officer who went to work for NASA, Herrington was the first Native American to walk in space. His legacy is seen on the richly detailed 2019 dollar reverse that honors Native American contributions to space.
Expect more military contributions to come to light on the small-dollar coin minted only for collectors. Native Americans served with distinction then, and continue to do so today.