Sandee Sez: Let Us Never Forget
- Sandra Ahenakew | November 26, 2014
It’s been over over 90 years since troops laid down their arms to end World War 1; we join all Canadians in paying tribute to the courage of those who served and those who serve today.
Many thousands of Aboriginal people saw action and endured hardship in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. They served with honour and distinction in all branches of the service and in every rank. They fought overseas to defend the sovereignty and liberty of allied nations, in addition to supporting the cause at home. Their heroic acts earned many decorations for bravery as well as the respect and enduring friendships with their comrades in arms. Hundreds from across Canada gave fully of their lives so that all Canadians might know peace and live free.
Canadian Aboriginal Veterans have reason to be proud of their wartime contributions. More than 7,000 First Nation men and women served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War, and an unknown number of Inuit, Métis and non-status Indians also participated. One Aboriginal Veterans group estimates that 12,000 Abriginals served in the three wars. On each occasion, Aboriginal members of the armed forces soldiers overcame cultural challenges and made impressive sacrifices and contributions to help the nation in its efforts to restore world peace.
One of Canada’s most decorated soldiers comes to mind; Thomas George Prince. He was a descendant of Peguis, the Saulteaux Chief who led his band of 200 Ojibwa from the Sault Ste. Marie region to the Red River in the 1790s, and of Chief William Prince, who headed the Ojibwa-Manitoba team of Nile Voyageurs.
Prince enlisted in June 1940, at the age of 24, and began his wartime service as a sapper with the Royal Canadian Engineers. After two years with the RCE, he answered a call for paratrooper volunteers, and by late 1942, was training with the first Canadian Special Service Battalion. Shortly after Prince joined this select battalion it merged with an elite American unit, forming a group of 1,600 men with a variety of specialist skills. Officially called the 1st Special Service Force, it would become known to German soldiers as the Devil's Brigade. Originally, this force was intended to be a parachute unit that would land behind enemy lines and sabotage their installations. Instead, it became a versatile assault group with a reputation for specialized reconnaissance and raiding.
Prince was called to go to Buckingham Palace on February 12, 1945 where King George VI presented him with his Military Medal. Prince would later receive his Silver Star from US General Koening (on behalf of the American President on April 24, 1945; he was one of 59 Canadians to receive this award during the war, and one of only three to receive the Military Medal. In all, Tommy Prince was decorated nine times, the most of any aboriginal soldier in the war.
Like many returning from war, adjusting to civilian life had not been easy for Prince after World War II, and with painfully arthritic knees as a result of the long, harsh conditions during his military service, his capabilities were limited. Coupled with the discrimination seen against Native people at the time, his life became increasingly difficult, his marriage ended and his children were put into foster homes.
In June 1955, Tommy Prince made the news for his heroism in saving a man from drowning in Winnipeg. But his personal life kept spiraling and alcoholism overtook him resulting in his final years being spent virtually alone, living in a Salvation Army hostel. In order to support himself, he sold off his medals. What a sad ending for an honourable, decorated war hero.
Ira Haze is another Aboriginal war veteran, a Pima Indian from Arizona, who was a decorated US Marine and one of 29 survivors from Iwo Jima. Johnny Cash made Ira’s name famous with a song he recorded called the Ballad of Ira Haze.
Let me end on a more positive note. The Navajo Code Talkers code was never broken by the Japanese Army. Major H. Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer said, “Were it not for the Navajo’s the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” In 2002 Nicholas Cage and Adam Beach starred in a movie about the Navajo Code Talkers called Windtalkers... I recommend watching the movie. These are only a few examples of Aboriginal heroes and their contributions. Let us never forget.