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Timeline / Citizenship, Services, and Sovereignty / 1950-53: American Indians enlist for war in Korea

1950-53: American Indians enlist for war in Korea

The Korean War begins. U.S. military records fail to completely account for American Indian and Alaska Native enlistment during the Korean conflict. Experts agree that about 10,000 Indians serve. Among the enlisted men is Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, a high school dropout who will become a U.S. senator from Colorado.

“There is a camaraderie that transcends ethnicity when you serve your country overseas in wartime.” —Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne

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Mitchell Red Cloud Jr., a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, was a soldier in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Red Cloud died holding back a surprise onslaught of enemy forces, giving his company time to prepare its defenses. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous action in battle.

Courtesy Congressional Medal of Honor Society

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Like thousands of Native Americans, Ben Nighthorse Campbell served in the U.S. military during the Korean War. Campbell was enlisted in the Air Force, earning the rank of Airman, Second Class by the end of the conflict. After leaving the military, he went on to compete in the judo competition of the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, and became a member of Congress, serving in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s contributions to the Korean War effort are part of a long legacy of Native American military service dating back to the country’s inception.

Courtesy of Ben Nighthorse Campbell