Inspired by Warriors
By Donald K. Boswell, WNED President and CEO
Donald K. Boswell, WNED President and CEO
Donald K. Boswell
I first heard about the warrior tradition when I sat down with Barry Brandon, who had recently joined the WNED board. We asked him if he had any program ideas that could be of national interest. Barry, who is Native American, told me to Google warrior tradition. I have been intrigued ever since.

Like most Americans, I didn’t know the history of service by Native Americans, other than the Code Talkers. I didn’t understand the true depth of their commitment, and I was inspired to learn more and bring the story to PBS audiences.

American Indians have proudly worn our nation’s uniform in every one of our conflicts. In fact, as early as 1778 our country enlisted the service of Native Americans, both as scouts and as light infantry. I have been anxious to tell the story of thousands of Native Americans who served in our country’s armed forces. Their military contributions and their sacrifices to help preserve American democracy deserves recognition.

Here are three stories that have particularly inspired me.

Tecumseh

Tecumseh
Tecumseh
Tecumseh was a warrior at age 15. He later became a leader with great power who could persuade large numbers of people to come together and seek a higher good. He believed in the joining of all Indians under a single nation. His charisma was enticing and he was able to gather many of the tribes together to negotiate for Indian land with the settlers. For this act he was known early on as the leader who desired peace. But the settlers could not be trusted to take only what was given to them, but would attempt to take even more. The settlers would attempt to drive the Indians from any land that they wanted and would resort to violence to get it.

Tecumseh organized the Indians in building a defense force to protect their land from those that would attempt to take it from them.

Following the destruction of Tippecanoe. Tecumseh and his warriors joined the forces with the British during the War of 1812 in hopes that they would return the land to the Indians if they won the war.

Tecumseh was the first Indian to serve at the rank of General in the British Army. Tecumseh fought as Brigadier General during the War and when the British were defeated and turned tailed to Canada, Tecumseh begged them not to give up the fight.

At the start of the Battle of the Thames in 1813, the British retreated and left the Indians to fight on their own. Having no aid from the British and against all odds Tecumseh and his men decided to fight the Americans.

Tecumseh died in the battle at Chatham, Ontario. His death ended the dream of a unified Indian Nation.

In the Royal Canadian Military Institute, there is a large portrait of Tecumseh which was unveiled in 2008. He is ranked as number 37 on the list of Greatest Canadians.

The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland has a court named after Tecumseh in front of Bancroft Hall. Within, there is a bust of Tecumseh.

Even though he was declared an enemy of the United States, his courage and honor to protect the land and his people against all odds resonates with the United States military and is why he is respected as a model for our military students. Protect the land and the people of America.

Sgt. Poolaw

Sgt. Pascal Poolaw
Sgt. Pascal Poolaw
The nation’s most distinguished Native American was Sgt. Pascal Poolaw. A veteran of three wars-World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Sgt. Poolaw is acclaimed as America’s most decorated “warrior in uniform.” He earned 42 medals, badges, citations, and campaign ribbons for combat service and for valor, including three Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts (one in each war), three Army Commendation Medals, and the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also nominated for the Medal of Honor.

Although Sergeant Poolaw had retired in 1962, he reentered the Army five years later in an effort to keep his son Lindy from having to go to Vietnam. Another son, Pascal Poolaw, Jr. had already served in Vietnam, losing a leg in an explosion, and Army regulations prohibited two members of the same family from serving in a combat zone without their consent. But Sergeant Poolaw was too late. Upon reaching the point of departure on the West Coast, he discovered that Lindy had left for Vietnam the day before. He decided to follow him.

Having father and son in combat at the same time was nothing new to the Poolaw family. Pascal had served in World War II with his father and two brothers. But this time luck ran out for him. Four months after arriving in Vietnam he was killed in action while trying to carry a wounded soldier to safety. Poolaw had four sons. Each entered the Army and three served in Vietnam.

Lt. Walkabout

Lt. Billy Walkabout
Lt. Billy Walkabout
Lt. Billy Walkabout, a Cherokee, received the Distinguished Service Cross, five Silver Stars, 10 Bronze Stars (including five with valor), seven Air Medals, 10 Army Commendation Medals (including five with valor) and six purple Hearts. Lt. Walkabout was the most decorated Native American soldier of the Vietnam War.

He was awarded his Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on a mission behind enemy lines. Under fire for several hours, Sergeant Walkabout was seriously wounded, three members of his 12-member squad were killed at the scene, and one other died later from injuries.

The citation for his award notes that he simultaneously returned fire, helped his comrades and boarded injured soldiers onto evacuation helicopters. After being seriously injured, he spent six months in a coma, recovered and later returned to Vietnam.

In a 1986 interview with the Associated Press, “War is not hell,” Walkabout said, “It’s worse.

“I’m at peace with myself. I’ve got my dignity, and I’ve got my pride.”
Native Americans are too often the forgotten heroes in this country’s history. The sad reality is that most of these soldiers, who have come from every tribe in this country, have been “invisible.” We hope that “The Warrior Tradition” will help to correct that.

Please take the time to watch the documentary, and then explore this website to learn more about the warrior tradition and the incredible Native Americans who have fought to protect this country.

References:
Ohio History Connection. Oral History Central. Tecumseh https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Tecumseh

The Brock News. Portraits of Tecumseh and Brock come to campus. Brock University OCTOBER 15, 2010. https://brocku.ca/brock-news/2010/10/portraits-of-tecumseh-and-brock-come-to-the-university/

Public Affairs Office. U.S. Naval Academy. Tecumseh https://www.usna.edu/PAO/faq_pages/Tecumseh.php

Naval Vessel Registry. TECUMSEH (SSBN 628) https://www.nvr.navy.mil/SHIPDETAILS/SHIPSDETAIL_SSBN_628.HTML

The Virtual Wall.org Pascal Cleatus Poolaw, Sr. Vietnam Veterans Memorial. http://www.virtualwall.org/dp/PoolawPC01a.htm

U.S. Army. Decorated Soldier Remembered Pascal C. Poolaw Sr. American Indians in the U.S. Army. https://www.army.mil/americanindians/

Associated Press. Billy Walkabout, 57; Native American war hero. LA Times https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-mar-13-me-walkabout13-story.html

U.S. Army. Billy Bob Walkabout, Second Lieutenant, United States Army. October 24, 2012. https://www.army.mil/article/89928/billy_bob_walkabout_second_lieutenant_united_states_army