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In honor of Native American Heritage Month, let's celebrate Native American Service Members.

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, as well as Veterans and Military Families Month, ViacomCBS Veterans Network would like to celebrate and uplift the accomplishments and excellence of some of our Native American Service Members.

Woodrow W. Keeble (May 16, 1917 – January 28, 1982) was a Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation – Dakota people/American of the highest degree and a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the Korean War.

MOH Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Master Sergeant Woodrow W. Keeble distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Sangsan-ni, Korea, on October 20, 1951. On that day, Master Sergeant Keeble was an acting platoon leader for the support platoon in Company G, 19th Infantry, in the attack on Hill 765, a steep and rugged position that was well defended by the enemy. Leading the support platoon, Master Sergeant Keeble saw that the attacking elements had become pinned down on the slope by heavy enemy fire from three well-fortified and strategically placed enemy positions. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Master Sergeant Keeble dashed forward and joined the pinned-down platoon. Then, hugging the ground, Master Sergeant Keeble crawled forward alone until he was in close proximity to one of the hostile machine-gun emplacements. Ignoring the heavy fire that the crew trained on him, Master Sergeant Keeble activated a grenade and threw it with great accuracy, successfully destroying the position. Continuing his one-man assault, he moved to the second enemy position and destroyed it with another grenade. Despite the fact that the enemy troops were now directing their firepower against him and unleashing a shower of grenades in a frantic attempt to stop his advance, he moved forward against the third hostile emplacement, and skillfully neutralized the remaining enemy position. As his comrades moved forward to join him, Master Sergeant Keeble continued to direct accurate fire against nearby trenches, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Inspired by his courage, Company G successfully moved forward and seized its important objective. The extraordinary courage, selfless service, and devotion to duty displayed that day by Master Sergeant Keeble was an inspiration to all around him and reflected great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

We are deeply grateful and humbled by Woodrow’s dedication and sacrifice.

Minnie Spotted-Wolf (1923-88) was the first Native American woman to enlist in the United States Marine Corps, in July 1943. She was a member of the Blackfoot tribe and hailed from Heart Butte, Montana. Minnie was well-known for her skill at breaking horses, which she learned on her father’s ranch. She described Marine boot camp as: "hard but not too hard."

She served on military bases in California and Hawaii. She worked as a heavy equipment operator and a driver for general officers. Press coverage of her wartime service included headlines like Minnie, Pride of the Marines, Is Bronc-Busting Indian Queen. After her military service, she earned a degree in Elementary Education, and spent 29 years as a teacher.  

According to her daughter, "she could outride guys into her early 50s," which comes as no surprise from a trailblazer like Minnie.  

Thank you for your service, Minnie! Ooh Rah! 

Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. (2 July 1925 – 5 November 1950) was a United States Army corporal who gave his life in Korea, and a former a Marine Corps sergeant who had served in World War II. Born in Hatfield, Wisconsin, Red Cloud, a Ho-Chunk Native American. He first served in combat with the Marine Raiders during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942 before health problems forced him stateside in 1943 to recover. Red Cloud avoided a medical discharge and served with the 6th Marine Division during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Red Cloud enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1948.

Camp Red Cloud, an Army installation in Uijeongbu, Korea (and headquarters for the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea), is named after Cpl. Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. Red Cloud was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.

His dedication was one of a kind. We are honored to remember Mitchell’s story and service.

Michael E. Thornton (Born March 1949) was a Cherokee American hero of the highest degree and a retired US Navy SEAL and recipient of the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the Vietnam War. Thornton graduated high school in 1967 and enlisted in the US Navy as a gunner’s mate aboard destroyers until he volunteered for BUD/S training where 129 members signed up and only 16 students graduated.

MOH Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while participating in a daring operation against enemy forces. PO Thornton, as Assistant U.S. Navy Advisor, along with a U.S. Navy lieutenant serving as Senior Advisor, accompanied a 3-man Vietnamese Navy SEAL patrol on an intelligence gathering and prisoner capture operation against an enemy-occupied naval river base. Launched from a Vietnamese Navy junk in a rubber boat, the patrol reached land and was continuing on foot toward its objective when it suddenly came under heavy fire from a numerically superior force. The patrol called in naval gunfire support and then engaged the enemy in a fierce firefight, accounting for many enemy casualties before moving back to the waterline to prevent encirclement. Upon learning that the Senior Advisor had been hit by enemy fire and was believed to be dead, PO Thornton returned through a hail of fire to the lieutenant's last position; quickly disposed of 2 enemy soldiers about to overrun the position, and succeeded in removing the seriously wounded and unconscious Senior Naval Advisor to the water's edge. He then inflated the lieutenant's lifejacket and towed him seaward for approximately 2 hours until picked up by support craft. By his extraordinary courage and perseverance, PO Thornton was directly responsible for saving the life of his superior officer and enabling the safe extraction of all patrol members, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Michael was a shining example of an American Hero, and we will never forget his service or sacrifice.

Lori Ann Piestewa (1979-2003) was a Hopi Native American, was the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the Army, and the first woman in the U.S. military killed in the Iraq War. While a tragic event, her death led to a rare joint prayer gathering between members of the Hopi and Navajo tribes, which have had a centuries-old rivalry. In 2018, Piestewa became one of the inductees in the first induction ceremony held by the National Native American Hall of Fame. Arizona's Piestewa Peak is named in her honor. 

Piestewa was awarded the Purple Heart and Prisoner of War Medal. The U.S. Army posthumously promoted her from private first class to specialist. Piestewa came from a family of military service. Her paternal grandfather served in the U.S. Army in the European Theatre of World War II, and her father Terry Piestewa was drafted in the U.S. Army in September 1965 and served a tour of duty in the Vietnam War.  

Lori made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. While words will never be sufficient to show our gratitude, we will remember Lori as a true American hero for as long as stories are told.  

Ira Hayes (1923-55) was a Pima Native American from Sacaton, Arizona, was one of the six Marine flag raisers in the iconic photograph “Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima” by photographer Joe Rosenthal. Ira signed onto become a paramarine. He fought in the Bougainville and Iwo Jima campaigns in the Pacific War.  

President Roosevelt had ordered that the flag raisers in Joe Rosenthal's photograph be sent immediately to Washington, D.C., to appear as a public morale factor. In 1949, Ira portrayed himself raising the flag in the movie, Sands of Iwo Jima, starring John Wayne. In 2006, Hayes was portrayed by Adam Beach in the World War II movie Flags of Our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood. Many people learn about Ira’s story from the song “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” sung by Johnny Cash.

Hayes did not feel worthy of his fame and attempted to lead a normal civilian life after the war. "I kept getting hundreds of letters. And people would drive through the reservation, walk up to me and ask, 'Are you the Indian who raised the flag on Iwo Jima?'" Although Hayes rarely spoke about the flag raising, he talked more generally about his service in the Marine Corps with great pride. From his time in service, Ira struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and descended into alcoholism, which eventually killed him.  

Despite his bittersweet post-military experience, nothing will ever diminish our country’s deep gratitude for his service, or our appreciation for his pride in service. Rest Easy, Ira. Semper Fidelis. 

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