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Native American legacy is one of honor, dedication

Offutt Air Force Base celebrates Diversity Day 2010.

The U.S. Air Force Academy National American Indian Heritage Luncheon will be 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m., Nov. 19, 2014, in the Arnold Hall Ballroom. (Courtesy graphic)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) -- During November, the nation pays tribute to the contributions of Native Americans throughout U.S. history.

On Aug. 3, 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month, commonly referred to as Native American Heritage Month.

Many tribes were involved in the War of 1812, and fought for both sides as auxiliary troops in the Civil War. Since then, Native Americans served in every major American conflict and continue to serve around the globe.

Finding the direct impact of Native Americans and an Air Force demographic is difficult, said Gary Boyd, Air Education and Training Command's historian.

"Native Americans were not segregated, as were other groups, with regard to military aviation," he said. "They were blended into units making it difficult to track their true impact. It is a substantial history nonetheless."

One such Native American had a lasting impact on Air Force history.

Maj. Gen. Clarence Leonard Tinker was named commander of the 7th Air Force in Hawaii after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In January 1942, he became the first Native American in the U.S. Army to be promoted to major general.

Tinker died six month later leading a force of Liberator bombers on a raid to Wake Island. He was the first American general to die in World War II. On Oct. 14, 1942, the Oklahoma City Air Depot was named Tinker Field in his honor. The installation became Tinker Air Force Base, Jan. 13, 1948.

Native Americans have served more than two centuries. According to Defense Department statistics, they have the highest per-capita commitment of any ethnic population to serve in the armed forces.

One Air Force veteran's lineage of service extends over 100 years.

"My great-great-grandfather was the last Comanche chief, Quanah Parker," said Christine Frank, a former Air Force photojournalist. "I don't know much about my great-grandpa but I know he served in World War I, My grandpa, Clifford Clark, was in the Navy ... It wasn't until a few years ago I found out he was a Seabee."

Fink said there is great honor in her tribe for people who serve in uniform.

"I'm definitely proud to be a veteran as a Comanche," she said. "My tribe takes real pride in those who have served. They have a memorial of all their veterans and a bigger memorial for the Comanche code talkers."

Brought to popular attention by the 2002 movie "Windtalkers," were Native American Soldiers and Marines who used their knowledge of native languages to transmit coded messages. Although the movie focuses primarily on Navajo code talkers, according to the National Museum of the American Indian, many tribes were represented in both world wars to include the Cherokee, Cheyenne, Hopi, Meskwaki and Comanche tribes.

According to the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center, 17 Comanche code talkers enlisted in the U.S. Army in World War II. Fourteen were sent to fight in the European Theater and of those, 13 Comanche code talkers landed on the beach on D-Day. Several were wounded in battle but all Comanche code talkers survived the war.

While code talkers are some of the more recognized Native Americans, many served in other roles during military service, with some making the ultimate sacrifice.

To date, 28 Native Americans received the Medal of Honor. The most recent is Pfc. Charles George, who posthumously received the honor for leaping on to a grenade to save the lives of other soldiers during the Korean War.

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