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Native and Alaskan Americans in Military Medicine

From the Revolutionary War to present-day missions, Native and Alaskan Americans have a distinguished heritage of bravery, sacrifice, and excellence in the United States Military Services. In November, we commemorate the history and culture of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. The Military Health System honors and acknowledges the advancements in military medicine made by America's original indigenous people while celebrating today‚Äôs Native American trailblazers who exemplify that legacy of honor and service.

Native and Alaskan Americans Timeline Hero Image

An interactive timeline honoring the contributions of Native and Alaskan Americans to Military Medical History and those they've inspired who are making history in their own time.  

1898 Lakota Nuns

NAHM Laokota Nuns

The earliest documented Native American women in the U.S. military were four Lakota nuns who served during the Spanish-American War. Susie Bordeaux, Ellen Clark, Annie Pleets, and Josephine Two Bears served as nurses on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The nuns enlisted in 1898 to become nurses trained in infectious disease care at Camp Cuba Libre in Jacksonville, Florida. On Dec. 22, 1898, all four were sent to Camp Columbia in Havana, Cuba, to work as nurses for the former U.S. Department of War. The nuns gained accolades for their service there, including written praise from the surgeon general. They later became adopted members of the Order of Spanish-American War Nurses.

1917 Cora Elm

NAHM Cora Elm

Cora Elm was born in 1891 to the Oneida Indian Nation in Wisconsin. After graduating from the United States Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, she began nurse training in Philadelphia. After graduation in 1916, Elm became employed in a supervisory role at Philadelphia’s Episcopal Hospital. When World War I began, Elm joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps as a volunteer. She served at a base hospital in France, caring for more than 9,000 patients in just one year. In 1920, Elm was sent to Russia, Latvia, and Lithuania for nursing service with the American Red Cross. After the war, she served as a U.S. Army nurse in the Baltic states. Cora Elm died in 1949 and was buried with military honors.

1917 Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture

NAHM Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture

Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture was a Mohawk native born in 1890 on a Six Nations reserve in Ontario, Canada. At that time, the Indian Act restrictions prevented Monture from entering professional training in Canada, so she pursued nursing education in New Rochelle, New York. She graduated at the top of her class in 1914 and became the first registered nurse of indigenous descent in Canadian history. In 1917, during World War I, Monture volunteered with the U.S. Army Medical Corps. She served at Base Hospital Number 23 in Vittel, France, treating soldiers who had been shot or gassed in battle. Monture was the only First Nations nurse to serve in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during World War I. After her service, Monture remained in nursing until the 1960s and championed for better health care in underserved indigenous communities. She lived to be 105 years old.

1917 Lula Owl Gloyne

NAHM Lula Owl Goyne

Lula Owl Gloyne was the oldest of 10 children born to a Cherokee father and Catawba Indian mother in North Carolina. She grew up on the Qualla Boundary (historic Cherokee territory) and graduated from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia. She then entered the nursing program at Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1916, Gloyne became the first Eastern Band Cherokee Indian registered nurse in the United States. In 1917 she volunteered for the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and became a second lieutenant—the only member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to serve as an officer in World War I. After her military service, she returned to North Carolina to serve her community by treating those who had little to no health care access. Lula Owl Gloyne was inducted posthumously into the North Carolina Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

1918 Regina McIntyre

NAHM Regina McIntyre Early

Regina McIntyre was a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana. She attended the Holy Names Academy in Spokane, Washington, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps on February 5, 1918. Assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, she completed preliminary nurse training before being sent overseas to Savenay, France, to serve at the U.S. Army Base Hospital Number 69. She later worked at the U.S. Army Base Hospital Number 8 in Savenay, and at the U.S. Army Base Hospital Number 63 in Châteauroux through March 1919. McIntyre concluded her work at Camp Hospital 109 at Camp Montierchaum, France. McIntyre is the first confirmed World War I veteran who was an enrolled member of a Native American tribe in Montana.

1918 Josiah Alvin Powless

NAHM Josiah Alvin Powless

Dr. Josiah Alvin Powless was an Oneida hero of World War I. He was born in 1871 on the Oneida Reservation in Wisconsin. He attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, then entered Milwaukee Medical College, and graduated with honors in 1904. On April 1, 1918, Powless enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a first lieutenant in France with the medical detachment of the 308th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Infantry Division. On Oct. 14, 1918, while aiding a wounded comrade under intense machine gun and artillery fire, Powless was fatally wounded. For his valor, Powless was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. On Feb. 23, 1919, he was given full military honors by the Oneida Nation and the American Legion in De Pere, Wisconsin. On Nov. 6, 2002, on the 84th anniversary of his death, Powless’s memory was honored at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where U.S. Army officials dedicated the post’s guest house in his name.

1918 Constance Madden

NAHM Constance Madden

Constance Madden was a Cherokee born in 1893. She graduated from the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, and later completed her nursing degree at Kansas City General Hospital. At the onset of World War I, Madden registered as a nurse with the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. In 1918, she became one of 100 nurses who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on the Mauretania, serving with Base Hospital Unit Number 28 in Limoges, France. It’s estimated that of the nearly 10,000 patients who were admitted during the unit’s six months of operation, only 69 deaths were recorded.

1918 Marie Broker

NAHM Marie Broker

Marie Broker was born in 1890 to the White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. She attended Hampton Institute in Virginia and received her nursing education at the City and County Hospital of St. Paul, Minnesota, graduating in 1914. Broker held several nursing positions in Minnesota and served as the chairperson of the American Red Cross chapter of Beltrami County. On Sept. 17, 1918, Broker enlisted in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. She was preparing to go overseas when the armistice was signed that November. She was instead sent to Camp Meade, Maryland, where she served until discharged. After the war, Broker returned to Minnesota, where she became the first public health nurse appointed by the Minnesota State Board of Health to work on the Leech Lake Reservation.

1940 Tribal Medicine Carried into Battle

NAHM Tribal Medicine Carried into Battle

In 1883, the United States government passed the Code of Indian Offenses to restrict Native American religious and cultural ceremonies. However, during World War II, the large number of Native American people serving in the armed forces led to the resurgence of indigenous healing and honor practices: protection ceremonies, prayer vigils, and the carrying of tribal medicine into battle, among others. It ushered in an increased acceptance of Native American practices.

1941 Virginia Rosebud Sneed Dixon

NAHM Virginia Rosebud Sneed Dixon

Virginia Rosebud Sneed Dixon was born in 1919 to the Eastern Band Cherokee Indians on the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina. She graduated from Cherokee High School and went on to study at the Knoxville General Hospital School of Nursing, graduating in 1941. Shortly thereafter, Dixon joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, becoming the first Cherokee nurse to serve overseas in World War II. She was stationed at a field hospital in the mountains of China. Dixon continued serving during the Korean War, in an old North Korean hospital without water or electricity. Dixon later served near Korea's demilitarized zone with the 8063rd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, where she cared for soldiers with brain and spinal cord injuries.

1942 Marcella LeBeau

NAHM Marcella LeBeau

Marcella Rose LeBeau grew up in Promise, South Dakota, as a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. LeBeau attended Indian Boarding School and shortly after graduating, began work at a hospital in Michigan; she volunteered for the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1942. She served with the 76th General Hospital in Belgium and France, and then served in England. She survived the Battle of the Bulge and went on to treat soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Her heroic efforts earned her the European-African-Middle East Theatre Campaign Medal, the Rhineland Battle Star, and the World War II Victory Medal, as well as the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, France's highest civilian honor. LeBeau was a founding member of the North American Indian Women's Association and earning the Leadership Award by the National Congress of American Indians. One month before her death, LeBeau was inducted into the National Native American Hall of Fame.

1942 Julia Nashanany Reeves

NAHM Julia Nashanany Reeves

Julia Nashanany Reeves was a member of the Potawatomie Tribe of Crandon, Wisconsin. She studied nursing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps as a second lieutenant in 1942. Reeves was assigned to one of the first U.S. medical units sent to the Pacific. She was first stationed in New Caledonia, east of Australia. Over the course of six months, Reeves and her team treated over 6,000 patients. In 1943, Reeves transferred to the 23rd Station Hospital in Norwich, England, where she was stationed during the invasion of Normandy. She remained in Norwich through V-J Day and returned shortly thereafter to the United States. She would go on to serve in the Korean War with the 804th Station Hospital.

1943 Charles Shay

NAHM Charles Norman Shay

Charles Norman Shay was born in 1924 to the Penobscot Nation in Maine. Shay was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and assigned to be a combat medic with the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. On D-Day, he slogged through chest-high water to get to Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, to treat injured men. Noticing a rising tide, and under constant enemy fire, Shay dragged injured soldiers to higher ground to protect and treat them and he was awarded a Silver Star Medal for his heroic actions. Later, after also taking part in the Battles of Hürtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge, Shay was captured by the German forces in late March 1945 and liberated the following month. Shay went on to serve in the Korean war and was later awarded a Bronze Star Medal with two oak leaf clusters for his service. He retired from the U.S. Army as a master sergeant and served as an elder member of the Penobscot tribe of Maine.

1943 Rose Blue Thunder

1943 NAHM Rose Blue Thunder

Rose Blue Thunder came of age during the Great Depression, on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. She studied at Saint Francis Mission School, achieving her nursing degree before joining the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Inspired by the military service of her brother and uncle who had both joined the armed forces, Thunder joined the Army Nurse Corps as a First Lieutenant in 1943. Thunder trained at Fort Riley, Kansas, before going overseas to help treat the mass casualties of American soldiers and prisoners of war on D-Day. She went on to serve in England and France before being honorably discharged at the end of the war.

1943 Maria Emiliano Aquino

NAHM Maria Emiliano Aquino

Maria Emiliana Aquino was born in 1916 in San Juan Pueblo, a reservation of Tewa-speaking Pueblo people in New Mexico. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1939, then continued nursing studies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a concentration in occupational therapy. In 1943, Aquino joined the U.S. Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve) and was commissioned in 1944, distinguishing herself as the first Native American woman to serve as an officer in the U.S. Navy Medical Service Corps. Aquino was assigned to duty at the naval hospital at Bethesda, Maryland, where she became the first occupational therapist in the U.S. Navy’s Medical Service Corps. In 1957, Aquino was promoted to lieutenant commander, later going on to lead a group of neuropsychiatric therapists at the former Naval Hospital Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before retiring in July 1964.

World War II Navajo Enemy Way Ceremony

NAHM Navajo Enemyway Ceremony

The Navajo Enemy Way Ceremony uses prayer, talking circles, tribal medicines, drumming, sweat lodges, and other traditional healing practices to help relieve Native veterans from pre- and post-combat stress and to sustain connections with family, community, and Native culture. During World War II, such rituals were held when Native soldiers are deployed overseas. There are also warrior ceremonies to armor and protect the soldiers in battle; when the soldier returns, another ceremony is held to remove that armor and help him reconnect with his home. Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes the Navajo Enemy Way Ceremony, along with other traditional ceremonies, as an approved healing technique for Native American veterans returning from war.

1955 Alaska Guard First Scouts

NAHM Alaska Guard 1st Scouts

On June 22, 1955, two Russian MiG-15s from Siberia shot down a U.S. Navy P2V-5 Neptune plane flying a routine maritime patrol from Kodiak, Alaska, over the Bering Sea. The Navy aircraft crashed in flames on St. Lawrence Island. Sixteen Alaska National Guardsmen from the First Scouts mobilized an impromptu medical lifesaving mission. They treated and stabilized the 11-member crew, who sustained critical burns, gunshot wounds, and shrapnel injuries. The First Scouts saved everyone on board. On March 28, 2023, more than 67 years later, the Alaska National Guard and Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs presented the First Scouts with the Alaska Heroism Medal—the state's highest peacetime award for valor. Sgt. 1st Class Bruce Boolowon, the last surviving member of that Native Alaskan rescue team, received the award along with 15 family members of the Alaska Army National Guard's First Scouts.

1968 Francis Whitebird

NAHM Francis Whitebird

Francis Whitebird hails from the Rosebud Lakotas of South Dakota and from a long line of U.S. soldiers, dating back nearly 150 years. When the Vietnam conflict started, Whitebird honored his family tradition by enlisting in the Army. Basic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, was followed by his assignment to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade as a platoon medic, for two months. He then became company medic, overseeing three other medics. Whitebird endured 19 months of intense fighting in 1969 and 1970. After his service, he graduated from Harvard University, became a teacher, served in tribal government, and received a presidential appointment to a national advisory committee to preserve the Lakota language. At the 2022 National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C., actors and co-hosts Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna honored Whitebird in person for his service.

1970 Native American Military Medics Recruited to Reservations

NAHM Native Medics Recruited to Reservations

The Indian Health Service was established in 1955 under the Department of Health and Human Services to provide federal health services to members of federally recognized Native American tribes and Alaska Natives. In 1970, it launched the Community Health Medic Program to help Native American veterans find employment after their military service. The Community Health Medic Program helped assign trained medical specialists to Indian Health Service Clinics on reservations in primarily underserved, remote Native American and Alaska Native communities.

1994 Lisa Pivec

NAHM Lisa Pivec

Lisa Pivec is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation originally from the Peavine community in Adair County, Oklahoma. Pivec holds a master of science degree from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. In 1994, Pivec helped start the Cherokee Nation’s Healthy Nation program, which educated citizens about healthy eating and exercise habits and prevention programs for Cherokee people. In 2016, as Senior Director of Cherokee Nation Health Services, Pivec was recognized by the National Indian Health Board with its Area Impact Award, for her work which led to Cherokee Nation Health Services becoming the first accredited tribal public health department in the United States. Today, Pivec lives in Tahlequah, where she hopes to continue serving Cherokee people throughout her career.

1998 Jeffery Henderson

NAHM Jeffery Henderson

Jeffrey Henderson is a Lakota and an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He earned his bachelor’s and medical degrees from the University of California, San Diego, and served as Clinical Director of the Indian Health Service hospital in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Motivated to identify and address the root causes of health issues plaguing indigenous communities, Henderson earned his master’s degree in public health, and in 1998, founded the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health in Rapid City, South Dakota. The Center successfully promotes smoking cessation, cancer risk awareness, and environmental issues. Under Henderson’s leadership, the Center has been awarded more than $28 million through health research grants and contracts, largely from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has provided lucrative careers and benefits for reservation-based tribal members.

2008 Victor Cornejo

NAHM Victor Cornejo

Victor Cornejo, of the Apache tribe, is originally from California. His family roots were on a reservation in Oklahoma but after losing elder family members to racial genocide, they fled to Texas, New Mexico, northern Mexico, eventually settling in California. In 2008, Cornejo enlisted in the U.S. Army as a combat medic. When Cornejo was stationed in Alaska, he felt his family’s history and culture enabled him to connect and collaborate closely with the local Apache community. In 2020, Staff Sgt. Cornejo started serving as the battalion medic for the Army Parachute Team, nicknamed the Golden Knights. Today, Cornejo is still a member of the U.S. Army where he continues to shed light on the legacy of racial violence.

2017 Vivien Redeye

NAHM Vivien Redeye

Vivien Redeye is a member of the Seneca tribe, a U.S. Army Reserve major, and physician, from the Cattaraugus Reservation in Irving, New York. She is a graduate of the State University of New York and achieved her medical degree at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Buffalo, New York. In 2020, as part of the Department of Defense’s assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Redeye was mobilized with 1,000 other medical soldiers to Harlingen Medical Center, Texas. There, Redeye supported the overwhelmed hospital and community by caring for COVID-19 patients. Today, Maj. Redeye continues her work serving her community as a family medicine physician.

2019 Tanya Mooneyham

NAHM Tanya Mooneyham

Tanya Mooneyham is a member of the Navajo nation in New Mexico. She credits being raised with discipline and meager means for her military success. “I grew up in a reservation where there was a lot of poverty,” Mooneyham said. “You don’t realize how much poverty there is because you’re living in it, and that’s the only thing you know. I feel like if you can bounce back from what you learn and what you live through on a reservation, you can go through life in the military.” In 2019, those instilled values paid off: Maj. Tanya Mooneyham, 81st Medical Group Intensive Care Unit element leader, was awarded the Society of American Indian Government Employees Military Meritorious Service Award for her dedicated work in her community, as well as for supporting the Defense Department mission.

2019 Keely Jones Aliseo

NAHM Keely Jones Aliseo

Keely Jones Aliseo is a Lumbee Native American born and raised on tribal territory in Pembroke, North Carolina. In 2019, Aliseo entered the University of North Carolina at Pembroke as an Army ROTC cadet, pursuing a nursing degree. She endured late night study sessions and early morning physical training while focusing on her goal, which she achieved in 2023 when she became an Army Nurse Corps officer and a registered `nurse, with service as a Gold Bar Recruiter, focusing specifically on fostering a future generation of Army nurses.

Last Updated: November 13, 2023
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