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By the Numbers: A Look at Native Enlistment During the Major Wars

A look at how many Native Americans served in the U.S. military by war.

When looking back at the history of this United States, the participation of Native American warriors on the battlefield is a largely untold number. Considering Indians were involved in the American Revolution against the British, American Indians have been fighting for this country before it was a country.

According to the Department of Defense, in 2010 22,569 enlisted service members and 1,297 officers on active duty were American Indian. Considering the population of the United States is approximately 1.4 percent Native and the military is 1.7 percent Native (not including those that did not disclose their identity) Native people have the highest per-capita involvement of any population to serve in the U.S. Military.

In this light we thought we would list the amount of Native American participation in some of the major wars in history. In some of the earlier wars, the amount of specific Indian participation is unknown.


The American Revolution (1775-1783)

The Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy could not agree on which side to fight during the Revolutionary War and tried to remain neutral. While the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga sided with the British, the Oneida and Tuscarora fought with the Americans. Though the exact number of Indians fighting is unknown, some approximate only 8,000 Iroquois remained after the war.

The Indian Wars (1775-1890)

The Indian Wars describe the countless conflicts between American Settlers and the Government who were seeking further settlements and westward expansion. According to the U.S. Census Bureau of 1894, there were more than 40 Indian wars, and 19,000 white men, women and children and 30,000 Indians were killed.

The War of 1812 (1812-1815)

In the 32-month conflict between the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Indian Allies, many tribes fought as allies for either side. Some estimates count as high as 10,000 or more Indians participated in the conflict.

United States Civil War (1861-1865)

In 1862 Home guard Regiments were organized and were expedited to Indian Territories. Statistics show fewer than 3,600 Native Americans served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

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World War I (1917-1918 – American involvement only)

In World War I Native Americans were not even yet considered U.S. Citizens yet well over 12,000 Native people enlisted to serve in the U.S. Military. Additionally four American Indian soldiers serving in the 142nd Infantry of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division received the Croix de Guerre medal from France.

World War II (1941-1945 – American involvement only)

Over 44,000 Native Americans served in WWII between 1941 and 1945. In 1942, 99 percent of all eligible Indian healthy males from ages 21 to 44 had registered for the draft. In the Summer of that same year, 7,500 had enlisted. By the beginning of 1945, 22,000 had enlisted. By the end of WWII, 24,521 reservation Indians and another 20,000 off-reservation Indians had served in the military effort – or 10 percent of the American Indian population.

The Korean War (1950-1953)

Approximately 10,000 Native Americans served in the Korean War Conflict and three of them were awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Vietnam War (1956-1975)

More than 42,000 Native Americans served during the Vietnam War. Ninety percent of them were volunteers.

Second Persian Gulf War "Operation Desert Storm" (1991)

"Desert Fox" Campaign (part of U.S./Iraq Conflict) (December, 1998)

Third Persian Gulf War "Operation Iraqi Freedom" (March 19, 2003-Present)

During the Gulf Wars, according to the DOD’s July 2005 report, more than 3,000 American Indians served in the Gulf Region and as of that time 24,000 active duty service members out of 1.4 million active duty are American Indians.