Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

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Native Americans and Alaskan Natives

Several thousands Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have served in the U.S. Navy during the last 200 years.   The Navy did not consider one's race to be a factor in enlistment, so it is difficult to determine how many served during the early years of the Navy.   Despite being denied full citizenship, 1,200 Native Americans enlisted during World War I.  Many men wanted to serve in the United States Armed Forces and immediately served in Europe.   During the betweeen world war period, and due to the service of Native Americans in the Armed Forces, the commitment convinced Congress to pass the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, granting full American citizenshp to Native Americans.  

In World War II about 25,000 Native Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces, with 1,910 serving in the U.S. Navy.  Notable Native Americans who served during the war were Lieutenant Commander John Waldron (Lakota Sioux).   Waldron commdned Torpedo Squadron Eight during the Battle of Midway in June 1942, subsequently losing his life in that battle.   Lieutenant Commander Earnest E. Evans (Oklahoma Cherokee/Creek), commanded USS Johnston (DD-557) during the Battle off Samar in October 1944, where he lost his life during the sacrificing of the destroyer.   He posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions.    Graduate of the 1917 U.S. Naval Academy, Rear Admiral Joseph "Jocko" Clark (Oklahoma Cherokee) was a pioneer in naval aviation tactics and commanded two aircraft carriers during the war, later commanding Task Force 77 during the Korean War.  

During the Cold War, Native Americans and Alaska Natives continued to serve in the Navy.  Some notables are Lieutenant Michael Thornton (Eastern Cherokee) and Boatswain's Mate First Class James E. Williams (Eastern Cherokee) who both earned the Medal of Honor during their service in Vietnam.   In 2002, Naval aviator and test pilot John Herrinton (Chickasaw) served on the Space Shuttle and became the first Native American in outer space.   Also in the early part of the 21st Century, Master Chief James D. Fairbanks, a Chippewa Indian, was selected as the Fore Master Chief for the Seabees.  As of 2012, over 22,000 Native Americans served in the Armed Forces with 13,500 being Sailors.  

Other Resources:

NMUSN Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the U.S. Navy Pamphlet

NHHC Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the U.S. Navy Focus

Image:   80-G-419159:   Rear Admiral Joseph J. Clark, center, onboard USS Kearsarge (CV-33), July 6, 1949.  Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.