Academic journal article The Journal of Chickasaw History and Culture

Chickasaw Veterans of World War II

Academic journal article The Journal of Chickasaw History and Culture

Chickasaw Veterans of World War II

Article excerpt

The American experience in World War II draws the interest of many, likely because great nostalgia and national identity is attached to the war. Often labeled "The Good War," World War II was, most Americans believed, a necessary fight. The war certainly was, in the American conscience, a war less convoluted and controversial - a war viewed in more black-and-white terms than recent conflicts. As a fight of good against a menacing evil onslaught, the war could bring the best of what America could marshal at times, though not always. Those that fought the war (at home and abroad) were of the generation journalist Tom Brokaw praises as the "Greatest Generation," and there seems some validity to that claim. It was a generation of Americans born in the prosperity of the 1920s, raised in the dissolution and hard times of the Great Depression, and who stepped up to rid the world of tyranny, militarism, and all the evils the Axis powers could muster. Those who stormed the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima, fought in North Africa and the Ardennes, patrolled the skies, or sailed the oceans became part of a grand, national experience that shaped veterans' lives forever, and at times, haunted their memories. Regardless of where they served, the war drew servicemen into a brotherhood that often fought not for grand beliefs of patriotism or political ideals, but for themselves and the lives of their buddies. These men were what Stephen Ambrose called "citizen soldiers." Most that fought in the war were not career soldiers, but came from the nation's common citizenry - from all corners of the nation, all levels of society, and all races, including Native Americans. The experiences of Native American servicemen were in most ways similar to those non-Indian servicemen; in other ways the wartime Native American experience differed from the general population. Chickasaw tribal members served during the war too, and their reminiscences of those experiences are the focus of this article.1

These recollections came from interviews conducted in May 2008. That month, the Chickasaw Nation took a group of forty-four veterans of World War II to the nation's capitol for the Memorial Day holiday. The group toured many of the historic sites, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, and other sites. The memorial to elicit the deepest emotions was, however, the World War II Monument. It was the first time for most visitors to see the memorial that sits between the Washington and Lincoln Memorials. Emotions and moments of reflection gripped not just the veterans, but even passers-by, and strangers stopped to offer their gratitude to these veterans for their past service. Each evening during the trip, a few of the veterans were interviewed by employees of the Chickasaw Nation Tribal Headquarters. The veterans shared their recollections of their wartime experiences to be recorded for future generations. A portion of the Chickasaw interviewees included Donald R. Clark (Mill Creek, OK), Wallace Dawkins (West Monroe, LA), Earnest Guess (Purcell, OK), Sim Greenwood (Ada, OK), James Harlin (Ardmore, OK), William Johnston (Milo, OK), William E. Nelson (Ardmore, OK), and Robert E. Nichols (Pauls Valley, OK).

Tribal members served in all branches of service, including the United States Coast Guard, the Merchant Marines, and the Women's Army Corps. The experiences and feelings these veterans offered were very much like what other veterans have experienced. The war certainly served as a crossroads in the lives of most veterans, and being Native American carried with it some differences, to be sure. Yet, for the Chickasaw veterans who recalled their wartime past, there is a general experience to the war that reflects more of the mainstream than an anomaly when compared to other American veterans of the war. Certainly the war offered these men a life experience beyond Oklahoma. …

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