Dressed in ceremonial regalia, Senator Ben
Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne), a veteran of the
Korean War, stands with World War II veteran Senator Daniel
K. Inouye and Native American veterans of the Vietnam War
during the opening of the National Museum of the American
Indian on the National Mall. October 21, 2004, Washington,
D.C. (Mario Tama/ AFP for the National Museum of the American
There is a camaraderie that transcends ethnicity when
you serve your country overseas in wartime. Senator
and Korean War veteran Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne)
Today the United States observes National
Korean War Veterans Armistice Day. The Korean Conflict began
70 years ago on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops crossed
the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea, and ended on July 27,
1953. According to Department of Veterans Affairs records, nearly
37,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces died in that conflict half
a world away, in battle or as prisoners of war, and more than 100,000
It is impossible to give exact numbers for American Indian, Alaska
Native, and Native Hawaiian members of the military, but approximately
10,000 Native Americans served in Korea during the war. Some carried
on their peoples warrior traditions. Some were continuing
military careers that began in World War II. Some enlisted for economic
reasons, including to qualify for education benefits provided after
1944 by the G.I. Bill. All were answering the call to protect an
ally of the United States .
Military records show that 194 Native American soldiers, sailors,
and airmen died in the Korean conflict. Medals of Honor were awarded
to seven American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian soldiers,
all serving in the U.S. Army: Corporal Mitchell Red Cloud, Jr. (Ho-Chunk),
Captain Raymond Harvey (Chickasaw), Sergeant First Class Tony Kenneth
Burris (Choctaw), Private First Class Anthony T. Kaho?ohanhano (Native
Hawaiian), Master Sergeant Woodrow Wilson Keeble (Dakota Sioux),
Private First Class Charles George (Cherokee), and Private First
Class Herbert Kailieha Pilila?au (Native Hawaiian). Often acknowledged
as the most decorated American Indian servicemember is Pascal Poolaw
(Kiowa). Poolaw served in WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam and
received 42 medals and citations, including four Silver Stars, five
Bronze Stars, and three Purple Heartsfor wounds suffered in
I am an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe. We carry on a rich
tradition as protectors of our land, people, and way of life. Three
Kiowa tribal members gave the supreme sacrifice on Korean soil:
Silas W. Boyiddle, Luke B.Tainpeah, and Dennis K. Karty. Their patriotic
service is a virtue I am very proud of as a Kiowa citizen.
In addition, an uncleWilliam Bill Hall (Zotigh)served
with the 8076th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) Unit, 2nd Infantry
Division. Our family lore recounts that my uncle fell in love with
a Japanese woman in Korea and had a son there, and that they were
not allowed to return with him to the United States. Why is still
a mystery. Growing up I was hooked on watching the MASH series on
television. Yes, it was a satirical comedy, but I also watched for
the insight it gave me into my uncles experiences. Years later,
a Kiowa tribal dance group was invited to perform in South Korea,
and I was asked to join them.
Flying to Korea took 14 hours. We arrived in the heat of summer.
Walking outside Seouls Gimpo International Airport, we were
met with a heavy blanket of humidity. The sights, smells, and sounds
were so different from what I was used to. I remember realizing
that North Korea was ruled by a dictator with nuclear weapons and
that its border was only 35 miles north of Seoul.
We performed as special guests for the 25th anniversary of Seoul
Land, South Koreas most popular amusement park. Park visitors
were very interested in our culture, especially when we wore our
feathers. After each performance, visitors would line up to take
photos with us. They were extremely polite and appreciative though
at that time, nearly 20 years ago, most did not speak English.
At the end of the day, the entire park would come together for
an grand finale. They saved our group for last, before each nights
huge fireworks show. One memory that sticks in my mind is when Korean
traditional dancers performed to the Korean anthem Arirang. Back
home in rural Oklahoma, my uncle used to sing the same song late
in the night. In Seoul, I thought of how he must have missed his
son, and remembered the heartfelt emotion that came through in his
singing this song.
One Thursday, on our weekly day off, I caught the subway and bus
to Inchon, a landing point on the Yellow Sea for American forces
at the start of the Korean Conflict. My uncle landed at Inchon.
The sea truly was a dull yellow color, though there was now a Dominos
Pizza among the traditional seafood restaurants along the shore.
Historical markers on the harbor area gave information about the
At night we went back to our hotel exhausted from performing in
the heat and humidity. Near our hotel were steep mountains. Soldiers
of the Republic of Korea (ROK) watched the northern horizon from
guard towers on top of each peak. One Thursday we rented a van and
drove to the 38th parallel, to an area called P'anmunjom, a de facto
border village separating North and South Korea and the place where
the armistice was signed. There was a heavy military presence, ROK
troops on one side and North Korean troops on the other. We were
allowed to enter a building where we could walk to one side of a
large negotiation table and technically be in North Korea. We were
told that in the case of an attack on South Korea, American and
ROK forces could be fully mobilized and ready for battle in less
than three minutes.
There were American military bases throughout the country. We were
permitted to visit the base in Osan, south of Seoul, and Yongsan
U.S. Military Base within the city, the headquarters of the U.S.
military in South Korea. Outside the Korean War Museum, near Yongsan,
were military tanks and armament that were used in the Korean Conflict.
Of particular interest to me was a statue of two brothers in uniformone
from South Korea, one from North Koreahugging. It reminded
me of the U.S. Civil War, when brothers fought on opposite sides.
The museum itself was fascinating in telling the story of the pain
the war caused for the citizens of the Korean Peninsula, who were
once one nation, as well as the history of U.S. and Chinese involvement
in the war.
We performed in Korea for almost three months. At the end of our
visit, we were given time to honor and pay tribute to the three
Kiowa tribal members who died on Korean soil. In our final performance,
we explained to the audience that the blood of our tribe had been
shed here so that their people could have independence. Then we
read the names of our Kiowa warriors out loud: Private First
Class Dennis King Karty, Sergeant Luke Buddy Tainpeah, and Private
First Class Silas Wayne Boyiddle, whose remains were never recovered.
I sang the Kiowa Empty Saddle Song, a personal song made for Luke
Buddy Tainpeah and used by our tribe now whenever one of our men
or women dies a warriors death.
After we came home, I learned more about our Korean war dead:
Tainpeah, a member of the 187th Airborne Infantry Regimental
Combat Team, was born in 1923 and enlisted from his familys
home in Verden, Oklahoma. He was in killed on March 28, 1951, in
combat at Parun-Ni, South Korea.
38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, was born in 1931
and enlisted from his home in Lawton, Oklahoma. He was captured
while fighting in the vicinity of Panmegi-Ri, South Korea, on May
18, 1951, and died as a POW in North Korea on March 30, 1952. His
remains were returned to his family two years later. PFC Karty is
as a Comanche veteran, as well.
PFC Boyiddle, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, also
enlisted from Lawton. He was born in 1928 and was missing in action
after an attack in Choch'iwon, South Korea, on July 11, 1950. Of
667 soldiers in his battalion, more than 60 percent were killed
in that battle. The Army gives PFC Boyiddles date and place
of death as October 31, 1951, near Manp'o, North Korea. His remains
by a DNA match with one of his younger brothers in the summer
of 2002, around the same time I was performing with the Kiowa dancers
in Seoul, and he is now buried in Caddo County, Oklahoma. Among
his familys keepsakes is a black-and-white
photo of Silas in Korea with an Asian woman and child. Umlike
my uncle, he did not live to tell anyone what they meant to him.
Looking back at my time in Seoul, Im reminded that North
and South Korea are, bu international law, still at war. The Republic
of Korea never accepted the terms of the armistice. The agreement
signed on July 27, 1953, led to a cease fire and the creation of
a demilitarized zone, and began the return of prisoners of war and
their remains, but the peace remains fragile. This is the reality
we live in.
Native American Veterans Memorial is currently under construction
on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian on
the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Congress charged the museum
with creating this memorial to give all Americans the opportunity
to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of service
of Native Americans. Their
legacy deserves our recognition.
Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian)
is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan
and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal
war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural
specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
in Washington, D.C.