Barney and his brother Henry Old Coyote, along with Cyril Not Afraid and Sam Birdinground Jr., were all Crow Indian code talkers in World War II who were honored posthumously last year for their efforts, along with other Native American code talkers.
To kick off this year’s annual Crow Native Days celebration, these men, along with other World War II and Korean War Crow Indian veterans, were honored last week at Crow Agency’s Apsaalooke Veterans Park.
According to the Veterans Administration, World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 600 a day, and only 1.2 million veterans remain alive out of 16 million who served. The window to further honor their sacrifices grows smaller every day.
Director of Veterans Affairs of the Crow Tribe, Army veteran Paul Littlelight, recognized this fact and decided to recognize the veterans formally this year.
“We honor you, and we thank you for all that you’ve done, and it’s because of you men that we have this great freedom that we have,” Littlelight said. A native song composed by the local Black Whistle Singers called “Soldier Boy” named all of the wars from World War I to the current Iraq and Afghan wars.
Military men and Secretary of the Crow Tribe and Marine A.J. Not Afraid and Vice Secretary, along with Army veteran Shawn Backbone, thanked their military forbearers.
“We have a veterans administration for the first time in Crow country,” Backbone noted. “We want to take care of our veterans. So I want to thank you and salute you today. Aho!”
Barney Old Coyote, a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber who joined the Army Air Corps as a 17-year-old, was allowed to break radio silence while flying over North Africa and Europe to speak freely with his older brother Henry in his native Crow tongue. He was one of the most decorated World War II Native Americans, earning 17 decorations for his marksmanship and making him a “World War II Flying Ace.”
Old Coyote grew up hearing stories of bravery about the old ones, like the story of his grandfather Old Coyote, who helped repel a fierce onslaught of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors during the June 1876 Battle of the Rosebud. The battle took place a week prior to the more famous Battle of the Little Bighorn.
“My grandfather was wounded during the Battle of the Rosebud,” Old Coyote told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in November 2011. “He was one of the bravest ones.” Old Coyote died in August 2012.
But although Old Coyote and others were honored in spirit, many other Crow veterans were present – including 99 – year-old Joseph Medicine Crow, much renowned in the tribe for obtaining all four requirements to become a Crow war chief.
Those efforts included touching (counting coup) on an enemy soldier without killing him, disarming the enemy and getting his weapon, leading a successful war party and stealing an enemy horse.
“Everyone here knows he’s an American hero,” Gov. Steve Bullock said of Medicine Crow. “His lifetime of hard work, devotion to the Crow Tribe, and dedication to this country and Montana will always be a part of us. He’ll be 100-years-old - ‘young’ - a little bit later this year, and his legacy will continue to live on.”
Gov. Bullock cited statistics regarding Native American participation in the U.S. military.
“Over 44,000 thousand Native Americans served in World War II – five of them who are with us here today. For every one drafted, one and a half American Indians volunteered. Approximately 10,000 served during the Korean War,” he said. “Today Native Americans – and Montanans too – continue to serve higher than the national average. And it’s something we recognize too at the state level.”
Sen. Jon Tester’s representative, Rachel Court, read a statement on his behalf, noting, “Indian Country has contributed more than its share in defending this nation” and Tester supports proposed legislation by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s, D-Hawaii, to build a national memorial honoring Native Americans in Washington, D.C.