Yurok Veteran Barry Phillips Fought in France in WWI. Photo Courtesy of Chag Lowry.
As Veteran’s Day approaches November 11th, we are reminded of the important role the brave men and women from the United States military have played throughout history. It’s important that we also reflect on the service and the sacrifices made by Native Americans in the military, many of them from the Yurok Tribe. More Native Americans serve in the United States military service, per capita, than any other ethnic group, according to the Department of Defense statistics. Many of these Tribal people gave the ultimate sacrifice and others became disabled for life, while fighting to protect Indian Country.
- Yurok Tribal members have served in both World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War and in the current conflicts in the Middle East.
Our Yurok Veterans and their families will be honored with a special ceremony at The Yurok Country Visitor Center on Veterans Day, Wednesday November 11, 2015 at 1:30 pm. As a sign of appreciation for their sacrifice, the families of our Fallen Heroes that were Killed in Action(KIA) will receive a special gift from the Yurok Country Visitor Center. Please come and show your support and help us honor our Yurok Veterans that made the ultimate sacrifice.
Yurok Tribe Public Relations Manager, Matt Mais has written a piece highlighting the service members from Yurok Tribe and the quest for us to learn more.
A Tribute to Yurok Veterans
Written by Matt Mais
Yurok people, historically and today, feel a deep connection and appreciation for this place and will do anything necessary to protect it. That is why so many served and continue to serve in the armed forces.
Hundreds of local Tribal people served in both World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War and in the current conflicts in the Middle East. Per capita, more Native Americans serve in the military than any other ethnic group, according to statistics compiled by the US Department of Defense.
During World Wars I and II, approximately 90 percent of the men on the Yurok Reservation left their families to serve all over the world from Italy to Iwo Jima. There are also records of Yurok women, such as Aawok Dee Rouse, who participated in the war effort. Despite the tremendous hardships Yuroks and other Native Americans faced during that time period, many sacrificed everything to protect their homeland. At least seven were killed in action, according to research conducted by author Chag Lowry for his book The Original Patriots.
- Neil McKinnon is the Yurok Tribe’s oldest veteran. He served in WWII as a ball-turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress in Europe
Photo Courtesy of Chag Lowry.
- Author Chag Lowry with WWII Veteran Neil McKinnon
“We are not like other people. We have been here since the beginning of time. We’d rather fight than be invaded by another occupying force,” said Yurok tribal member David O’Neill, who volunteered to serve in 1965 after graduating from Hoopa High School, following in the footsteps of his father Herbert O’Neill a World War II veteran. “Pretty much all of my classmates are Vietnam veterans.”
At least one person in O’Neill’s immediate family has fought in every single war and conflict in United States history. His family’s trajectory through time is no different than many others in Yurok Country. O’Neill, a strong Tribal advocate, remains active in the Native veteran community. He helps former service members obtain the veterans’ benefits they deserve from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He also volunteers on the Yurok Color Guard, serving at funerals and at tribal meetings.
O’Neill’s wife, Peggy, wanted to document the history of Yurok military service. Peggy O’Neill, who is also the Tribe’s Planning Director, created several bounded compilations that document Yurok military service starting at World War I. She worked tirelessly, in her free time, compiling information on Yurok veterans, including: pictures, newspaper clippings, genealogy and other interesting details about Tribal military veterans.
“I was inspired after seeing my husband’s family’s service record and by the large number of military funerals that David attended,” Peggy O’Neill said. “Someone needed to show just how many Yurok people either risked or gave their lives in the service of their country.”
To gather the details for the bound book, the ardent history buff dove deep into the National Archives, public libraries and Ancestry.com. She also searched out funeral notices, letters and even high school yearbooks. While conducting the lengthy research project, Peggy found compelling trends associated with Yurok veterans, serving in World War I and II. “During WWI and WWII, I found a very high percentage of Yurok men entered the service,” she said. “I would say more than 90 percent of young men on the Reservation, who were in the appropriate age range, served in the military.”
There were also quite a few Yurok women who served in those wars as well. “There is a strong record of Yurok women serving in the military,” Peggy O’Neill said. “My husband’s great aunt, Ellen Norris was a military nurse in World War II”.
While many Yuroks were sent off to war on foreign soil, WWII came eerily close to Yurok Country. On September 21, 1942 a Japanese submarine successfully landed incendiary bombs just 40 miles north of the Yurok Reservation. In the beginning of 1943 the United States set up an early-warning radar station on the Yurok Reservation to thwart such attacks. Many tribal members provided support services to the Army Air Corps, which operated the station.
Although, Peggy has passed on her research to the Yurok Tribe, the project is not complete and likely never will be. Today, just as in history, many Yuroks continue to participate in the armed services. “I have donated my research to the Yurok Tribe, so the Yurok community can continue the work of preserving the record of Yurok military service history,” she said. The books are now housed in the Yurok Tribal Enrollment Department.
“Hopefully, someday they will be available to tribal members in the archives of the proposed Yurok Cultural Center,” she said.
Tribal members can contribute information, such as the following: photographs, letters, DD-214s, interviews, personal accounts, stories featuring their own family’s record of US Military service.
“This is a project that will never end” said Peggy O’Neill. “It will continue as long as Yurok men and women serve in the US Military.”
To learn more about the Yurok Tribe, please check out the Yurok Country Visitor Center or visit us online at visityurokcountry.com.