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American Indian Medal of Honor Recipients

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Memorial Day is a time to remember those serving in the United States military for their courage, bravery, selflessness and warrior ways. As American Indians serve in the armed forces at the highest per capita rate of ethnicity based on population it’s no wonder some of them have received the military’s highest honor. The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the U.S. Armed Services, and is generally presented by the U.S. President. The following 27 recipients are listed by the Department of Defense as American Indian according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Army.

Medal issued March 3, 2008

Master Sgt. Woodrow W. Keeble, (Standing Rock Lakota Sioux), born May 16, 1917 Waubay, South Dakota, served with the North Dakota National Guard’s 164th Infantry Regiment and G Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment. He received the medal for his actions on October 20, 1951, near Sangsan-ni, Korea, when he was an acting platoon leader for the support platoon in Company G during an attack on Hill 765, a steep, rugged position well defended by the enemy. Keeble saw that the platoon members had become pinned down on the slope by heavy enemy fire from three well-fortified, strategically placed enemy positions. With complete disregard for his own safety, Keeble dashed forward and joined the pinned-down platoon. Hugging the ground, he crawled forward alone until he was close to one of the enemy machine-gun emplacements. Ignoring heavy fire trained on him, Keeble threw a grenade with great accuracy, destroying the position. Continuing his one-man assault, he moved to the second enemy position, destroying it with another grenade. Despite the machine gun fire and a shower of grenades directed in a frantic attempt to stop him, Keeble moved on a third emplacement and neutralized it. As his comrades moved to join him, Keeble continued to fire against nearby trenches, inflicting heavy casualties. “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.”

Medal issued October 15, 1973

Lt. Michael E. Thornton, (Cherokee), born March 23, 1949, Greenville, South Carolina, entered service in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and served as a U.S. Navy SEAL. He received the medal for his participation in a daring operation against enemy forces in the Republic of Vietnam on October 31, 1972. Thornton, an assistant U.S. Navy advisor, along with a U.S. Navy lieutenant serving as senior advisor, accompanied a three-man Vietnamese Navy SEAL patrol in a rubber boat launched from a junk against an enemy river base on an intelligence gathering and prisoner capture operation. After reaching shore, they approached their objective on foot and 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 before moving back to the waterline to prevent encirclement. Upon learning that the senior advisor had been hit by enemy fire and was believed dead, Thornton returned through a hail of fire to the lieutenant’s last position, quickly disposing of two enemy soldiers and removing the seriously wounded, unconscious senior naval advisor. At water’s edge, he inflated the lieutenant’s life jacket and towed him seaward for about two hours until they were picked up by a support craft. “By his extraordinary courage and perseverance, Petty Officer 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 United States Naval Service.”

Medal issued May 14, 1968

Boatswain’s Mate First ClassJames E. Williams, (Cherokee), born June 13, 1930, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, entered service at Columbia, South Carolina, and served in River Section 531, U.S. Navy. He received the medal for his actions October 31, 1966, on the Mekong River in the Republic of Vietnam when he was serving as boat captain and patrol office on River Patrol Boat 105. Two enemy sampans fired on his boat and another patrol boat. Williams ordered return fire, killing the crew of one sampan and causing the other to take refuge in a river inlet. Pursuing the fleeing sampan, the U.S. patrol encountered a heavy small-arms fire at close range from well-concealed positions along the riverbank. Maneuvering through this fire, the patrol confronted a numerically superior enemy force aboard two junks and eight sampans, augmented by heavy automatic weapons fire from shore. “In the savage battle that ensued, Williams, with utter disregard for his own safety exposed himself to the withering hail of enemy fire to direct counter-fire and inspire the actions of his patrol.” Williams then deployed his patrol to await arrival of armed helicopters, but in the course of this movement discovered an even larger concentration of enemy boats. Not waiting for the armed helicopters, he boldly led the patrol through intense enemy fire and it damaged or destroyed 50 enemy sampans and seven junks. When the armed helicopters arrived, Williams directed the attack on the remaining enemy force. In the dark, although it meant the boats might become better targets, Williams ordered their searchlights turned on to illuminate the shore and moved the patrol perilously close to press the attack. Despite waning ammunition, the patrol successfully routed the enemy force. “Under the leadership of PO 1 c. Williams, who demonstrated unusual professional skill and indomitable courage throughout the three-hour battle, the patrol accounted for the destruction or loss of 65 enemy boats and inflicted numerous casualties on the enemy personnel. His extraordinary heroism and exemplary fighting spirit in the face of grave risks inspired the efforts of his men to defeat a larger enemy force, and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”

Medal issued March 18, 1954

Pfc. Charles George, (Cherokee) born August 23, 1932, in Cherokee, North Carolina, entered service at Whittier, North Carolina and served with Company C, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, U.S. Army. He received the medal for his actions on November 30, 1952 near Songnae-dong, Korea. Pfc. George was a member of a raiding party committed to engaging the enemy and capturing a prisoner to interrogate. Forging up the rugged slope of the key terrain feature, the group encountered intense mortar and machine-gun fire and suffered several casualties. George fought valiantly and at the crest of the hill leaped into the trenches and engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Upon completion of their assignment when the troops were ordered back, George and two others remained to cover the withdrawal. While they were leaving the trenches, an enemy soldier hurled a hand grenade into their midst. George shouted a warning to one comrade, pushed the other out of danger, and, despite the consequences, unhesitatingly threw himself upon the grenade, absorbing the full blast. Although seriously wounded, he refrained from any outcry that would divulge the position of his companions. The two soldiers evacuated him to an aid station, but he died shortly thereafter. “Pfc. George’s indomitable courage, consummate devotion to duty, and willing self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself and uphold the finest traditions of the military service.”

Medal issued April 25, 1951

Cpl. Mitchell Red Cloud, Jr., (Winnebago), born July 2, 1924, in Hatfield, Wisconsin, entered service at Merrilan, Wisconsin, and served with Company E, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, U.S. Army. He received the medal for his actions November 5, 1950, near Chonghyon, Korea. From his position on the point of a ridge immediately in front of the company command post, Red Cloud was the first to detect the approach of Chinese Communist forces and gave the alarm as the enemy charged from a brush-covered area less than 100 feet from him. Springing up, he delivered devastating pointblank automatic rifle fire into the advancing enemy. His accurate, intense fire checked the assault and gained time for the company to consolidate its defense. With utter fearlessness he maintained his position until severely wounded. Refusing assistance, he pulled himself to his feet, wrapped his arm around a tree continued to fire until he was fatally wounded. “This heroic act stopped the enemy from overrunning his company’s position and gained time for reorganization and evacuation of the wounded. Cpl. Red Cloud’s dauntless courage and gallant self-sacrifice reflects the highest credit upon himself and upholds the esteemed traditions of the U.S. Army.”

Medal issued August 2, 1951

Capt. Raymond Harvey, (Chickasaw) born March 1, 1920, in Ford City, Pennsylvania, entered service at Pasadena, California, and served with Company C, 17th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army. He received the medal for his actions on March 9, 1951, in the vicinity of Taemi-Dong, Korea, when his company, pinned down by a barrage of automatic weapons fire. Harvey braved a hail of fire and grenades to advance to the first enemy machine-gun nest, killing its crew with his grenades. Rushing to the edge of the next emplacement, he killed its crew with carbine fire. He then moved the First Platoon forward until it was halted by automatic fire from well-fortified positions. Disregarding the hail of fire, he charged and neutralized a third emplacement. “Miraculously escaping death from intense crossfire,” the citation states, “Harvey continued to lead the assault.” Spotting an enemy pillbox camouflaged by logs, he moved close enough to sweep it with carbine fire and threw grenades through the openings, killing its five occupants. Though wounded, he ordered the company forward, and, despite agonizing pain, continued to direct the reduction of the remaining enemy positions. He refused evacuation until assured that the mission would be accomplished. “Capt. Harvey's valorous and intrepid actions served as an inspiration to his company, reflecting the utmost glory upon himself and upholding the heroic traditions of the military service.”

Medal issued October 19, 1945

Pvt. 1st Class John N. Reese Jr., born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, enlisted at Pryor, Oklahoma, and served with Company B, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division. He received the medal for his actions on February 9, 1945, while his platoon was attacking Paco Railroad Station, in Manila on the Philippine Islands. The station was heavily defended by 300 enemy soldiers with machine guns, rifles and large artillery and in several pillboxes. The platoon was stopped about 100 yards from the station by intense fire. On their own initiative, Reese and Pvt. Cleto L. Rodriguez, left the platoon and continued forward to a house about 60 yards from the station. Remaining there about an hour, the two fired at “targets of opportunity, killing more than 35 Japanese and wounding many more.” Moving closer to the station, they discovered Japanese replacements attempting to reach the pillboxes and the two opened fire, killing more than 40 and stopping all attempts to man the emplacements. Enemy fire became more intense as they advanced to within 20 yards of the station. From that point, Reese provided cover fire and courageously drew enemy fire to himself while Rodriguez killed seven Japanese soldiers and destroyed a 20-mm gun and heavy machine gun with hand grenades. With their ammunition low, the two started back to the American lines, alternately providing cover fire for each other. During this return, Reese was killed by enemy fire as he reloaded. During the 2 ½ hours they undertook their attack, Reese and Rodriguez killed more than 82 Japanese soldiers, disorganized their defense and paved the way for the defeat of the enemy at this strong point. “By his gallant determination in the face of tremendous odds, aggressive fighting spirit, and extreme heroism at the cost of his life, Pfc. Reese materially aided the advance of our troops in Manila and providing a lasting inspiration to all those with whom he served.”

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Medal issued January 15, 1945

1st Lt. Jack C. Montgomery, Cherokee, born in Long, Oklahoma, enlisted at Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and served with the U.S. Army, 45th Infantry Division Thunderbirds. He received the medal for his actions on February 22, 1944, near Padiglione, Italy. Two hours before daybreak, enemy infantry established itself in echelons 50 yards, 100 yards, and 300 yards in front of 1st Lt. Montgomery’s rifle platoons. The closest echelon, with four machine guns and a mortar, threatened the U.S. platoons. “Seizing an Ml rifle and several hand grenades,” CMHS records, “1st Lt. Montgomery crawled up a ditch to within hand grenade range of the enemy. Then climbing boldly onto a little mound, he fired his rifle and threw his grenades so accurately that he killed eight of the enemy and captured the remaining four. Returning to his platoon, he called for artillery fire on a house, in and around which he suspected that the majority of the enemy had entrenched themselves. Arming himself with a carbine, he proceeded along the shallow ditch, as withering fire from the riflemen and machine gunners in the second position was concentrated on him.” Lt. Montgomery attacked the second echelon “with such fury that seven of the enemy surrendered to him, and both machine guns were silenced” and continued to the house where the remaining forces surrendered. A total of 11 enemies were killed, an unknown number wounded and 32 prisoners taken. That night, aiding an adjacent unit against a counterattack, he was struck by mortar fragments and seriously wounded. “As a result of his courage, Montgomery’s actions demoralized the enemy and inspired his men to defeat the Axis troops,” according to the U.S. Navy website.

Medal issued posthumously (1944)

Cmdr. Ernest Edwin Evans, Cherokee/Creek, born August 13, 1908, in Pawnee, Oklahoma, and Naval Academy graduate. He received the award for his actions October 24, 1944, while he was lieutenant commander on the USS Johnston in the battle off Samar Island in the Philippines. The Johnston, under Cmdr. Evans, was the first to lay a smokescreen and to open fire as a superior Japanese enemy force of battleships, destroyers and heavy and light cruisers engaged them. “In spite of the odds,” according to the U.S. Navy, “Evans gave orders to close the range and prepare for a torpedo attack, informing his crew that ‘survival cannot be expected.’” Cmdr. Evans diverted hostile gun blasts away from the lightly armed and armored carriers under his protection, launching the first torpedo attack when the Johnston came under Japanese shellfire. Outshooting and outmaneuvering the enemy as he interposed his vessel between the hostile fleet and the U.S. carriers, and despite a crippling loss of engine power and communications with steering aft, he shifted command to the fantail, shouting orders through an open hatch to men turning the rudder by hand, according to the CMHS. After unloosing a spread of torpedoes and three hours of battle, the Johnston was so badly damaged that Evans ordered his crew to abandon ship. “It is uncertain whether Evans died of wounds on board his ship or drowned after jumping into the water, but he was not among the Johnston's crew who were rescued,” according to the U.S. Navy records. CMHS concludes that “Comdr. Evans, by his indomitable courage and brilliant professional skill, aided materially in turning back the enemy during a critical phase of the action. His valiant fighting spirit throughout this historic battle will venture as an inspiration to all who served with him.”

Medal issued May 8, 1944

2nd Lt. Ernest Childers, Creek, born in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, served in the U.S. Army, 45th Infantry Division. He received the medal for an action on September 22, 1943, at Oliveto, Italy. Although 2d Lt. Childers previously had just suffered a fractured instep, he, with eight enlisted men, advanced up a hill toward enemy machine-gun nests. The group advanced to a rock wall overlooking a cornfield and 2nd Lt. Childers ordered a base of fire laid across the field so that he could advance. When two enemy snipers fired on him from a nearby house, he killed both of them. He moved behind the machine-gun nests and killed all occupants of the closer one. He continued toward the second and threw rocks into it. When the two occupants rose up, he shot one. The other was killed by one of the enlisted men. Second Lt. Childers continued his advance toward a house farther up the hill, and single-handed captured an enemy mortar observer. “The exceptional leadership, initiative, calmness under fire, and conspicuous gallantry displayed by 2nd Lt. Childers were an inspiration to his men.”

Medal issued September 28, 1944

2nd Lt. Van T. Barfoot, Choctaw, born June 15, 1919, in Edinburg, Mississippi, served in the U.S. Army, 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division. He received the medal for action on May 23, 1944, near Carano, Italy, where Tech Sgt. Barfoot, with his platoon heavily engaged during an assault against forces well entrenched on commanding ground, moved off alone upon the enemy left flank. He crawled near a machine-gun nest and made a direct hit with a hand grenade, killing two and wounding three German soldiers. He continued along the German defense line to another machine gun emplacement, and, with his Thompson submachine gun, killed two and captured three soldiers. Members of another enemy machine-gun crew then abandoned their position and gave themselves up to Sgt. Barfoot. Leaving the prisoners for his support squad to pick up, he proceeded to mop up positions in the immediate area, capturing more prisoners and bringing his total count to 17. Later that day, after he had reorganized his men and consolidated the newly captured ground, the enemy launched a fierce armored counterattack directly at his platoon positions. Securing a bazooka, Sgt. Barfoot took up an exposed position directly in front of three advancing Mark VI tanks. From a distance of 75 yards, his first shot destroyed the track of the leading tank, effectively disabling it, while the other two changed direction toward the flank. As the crew of the disabled tank dismounted, Sgt. Barfoot killed three with his machine gun. He continued onward into enemy terrain and destroyed a recently abandoned German fieldpiece with a demolition charge placed in the breech. While returning to his platoon position, Sgt. Barfoot, though greatly fatigued, assisted two seriously wounded men to get 1,700 yards to safety. “Sgt. Barfoot’s extraordinary heroism, demonstration of magnificent valor, and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers.”

Medal issued May 1890

Sgt. Rowdy, born in Arizona, served in Company A, Indian Scouts, received the medal for “bravery in action with Apache Indians” during an incident in Arizona on March 7, 1890.

Medal issued October 13, 1875

Pvt. Adam Paine, born in Florida, entered the Indian Scouts at Fort Duncan, Texas, received medal after he “rendered invaluable service to Col. R.S. Mackenzie, 4th U.S. Cavalry, during this engagement” at the Canyon Blanco tributary of the Red River in Texas on September 26-27, 1874.

Medals issued May 28, 1875

These members of the 24th U.S. Infantry Indian Scouts were given the medal for an April 25, 1875, event along the Pecos River in Texas when they “participated in a charge against 25 hostiles while on a scouting patrol”: Pvt. Pompey Factor, born in Arkansas; Isaac Payne, born in Mexico and served as trumpeter; Sgt. John Ward, born in Arkansas, and entered service at Fort Duncan, Texas.

Medals issued April 12, 1875

These members of the Indian Scouts were all given the medal for “gallant conduct during campaigns and engagements with Apaches” during the winters of 1871-73: Sgt. Alchesay, born in 1853 in the Arizona Territory and entered service at Camp Verde, Arizona; Blanquet, born in Arizona; Chiquito, born in Arizona; Cpl. Elsatsoosu, born in Arizona; Sgt. Jim, born in Arizona Territory; Kelsay, born in Arizona; Kosoha, born in Arizona; Pvt. Machol, born in Arizona; Nannasaddie, born in Arizona; Nantaje (Nantahe), born in Arizona.

Medal issued August 24, 1869

Co-Rux-Te-Chod-Ish (Mad Bear), born in Nebraska. A sergeant in the Pawnee Scouts, U.S. Army, Co-Rux-Te-Chod-Ish was given the medal for his bravery at the Republican River in Kansas on July 8, 1869, when he “ran out from the command in pursuit of a dismounted Indian; was shot down and badly wounded by a bullet from his own command.”