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Alaskan Native, Native American Heritage Month offers learning opportunities

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Adawn Kelsey
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
November brought in a warm welcome for Alaskan and Native American Heritage Month with a Luncheon Nov. 5 and a display of Native American history books and posters in the Sheppard library.

With approximately 19,000 Alaskans and Native Americans serving in the armed forces, this heritage month is a way for all of Sheppard's people to become aware of the history and diversity of the Air Force.

"The native people of the U.S. are the ones who shaped our country and have served with distinction and a great sense of pride. This is an opportunity for us to learn about the culture while we observe their heritage this month," said Capt. Meghan Corbett, head of the Alaskan and Native American Heritage Month steering committee.

Harry Tonemah, 82nd Training Wing public affairs multimedia photographer, said he believes this month is a chance for Sheppard to raise awareness that the base itself was built on Native American soil.

"We have a lot of folks here who haven't had a lot of contact with the Native American culture," he said. "The culture in our community is rich and not like what people are shown on TV or in movies. For example, the family and the traditions we have are highly stressed in our culture."

He said that one of the days that Native Americans across the country recognize is July 4. They have pow wows in remembrance of the ones that they have lost in previous wars or battles.

"We remember those who have fallen with pride and are proud of those who have served and served today," he said.

There are several Native Americans who served in the armed forces and have given the ultimate sacrifice for the success of the United States' freedoms. Native Americans have served with honor and pride.

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed on a member of the U.S. armed forces who distinguishes him or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States. Since the instatement of the Medal of, 3,448 medals were given, 25 of which have been given to Native Americans, 12 of those have been awarded since World War II.

Ernest E. Evans, a Cherokee and Creek Indian, served as a commanding officer of the USS Johnston in WWII. On Oct. 25, 1944, his ship was surrounded by a Japanese fleet that was superior in number, force and armor. Though he knew the mission would be futile, he led his destroyer and the rest of his fleet into battle.

He was the first to lay a smoke screen and open fire against the Japanese fleet in order to protect the lightly armed and armored carriers that were under the Johnston's protection. Though wounded during his torpedo attacks, he relentlessly joined his group in fire support in attempts to outshoot and outmaneuver the enemy.

His courage and skill aided in the retreating of the enemy during a critical phase of the action.

Capt. Raymond Harvey, Chickasaw Indian, served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. On March 9, 1951, Harvey and his company were pinned under enemy fire.

Captian Harvey left his company and braved a hail of fire to advance to the first enemy machine gun nest, killing its crew with grenades. He continued to kill more crew with carbine fire. Moving his platoon forward, he personally charged and neutralized the third emplacement. He spotted a bunker of enemies and swept it with carbine fire and grenades killing five occupants and allowing his company to advance.

He suffered multiple injuries but refused evacuation until the mission was complete.

Tech. Sgt. Van T. Barfoot, a Choctaw Indian, served during WWII. On May 23, 1944 Barfoot lead a squad through the minefield he discovered through patrols toward the German flank.

He proceeded alone along a ditch within a few yards of a German machine gun. After destroying the gun with a hand grenade, he entered the ditch toward a second machine gun position. He killed two soldiers and captured three others. Once he reached the third the entire crew surrendered totally and 17 German soldiers were captured.

Later that day he disabled one tank, advanced into enemy territory, destroyed an abandoned artillery piece and returned to his squad to assist two wounded soldiers. 

Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. of the Ho-Chunk tribe served in the United States Marine Corps during WWII and later earned his Medal of Honor as a corporal in the Army during the Korean War.

On the eve of Nov. 5, 1950, Mr. Red Cloud was the first to detect approaching Chinese forces on the base camp and gave alarm as they charged less than 100 feet from him.

He delivered devastating point blank machine gun fire while his company was able to consolidate a defense. Though severely wounded, he did not stop fighting. He held himself up against a tree until he was fatally wounded.

Tony K. Burris was a Choctaw Indian who served as sergeant first class in the Army during the Korean War.

On Oct. 8, 1951, Sergeant Burris and his company encountered intense hostile force. He charged forward alone, killing 15 enemy soldiers. On the next day during a renewed assault, Sergeant Burris deliberately exposed himself to draw hostile fire and reveal the enemy position. The enemy was destroyed and the company moved forward.

Sergeant Burris, submitting to only emergency treatment, destroyed the first position with its machine gun and six men. With his last grenade he moved forward to the next emplacement and destroyed it, falling mortally wounded from the enemy.

Historical information included in this article was submitted by Staff Sgt. Nicole Staelens, 365th Training Squadron instrument flight control instructor.