American Indian warriors adapted successfully to modern warfare.
My late father, former U.S. Navy combat cameraman Paul D. Guttman, tended to be selective about the stories he told me from World War II, but one of his favorites was of noticing a scruffy looking sailor in work clothes and with his hat pulled down, standing on the chow line aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown, complaining about the quality of the food. “If you don’t like it,” the chief cook dismissively replied, “take it up with the admiral.” At that point, the seaman removed his hat and declared, “I am the admiral,” and proceeded to inform the entire galley that they could do better than that, and that his men deserved better.
Such was Dad’s first but by no means last impression of Rear Adm. Joseph James “Jocko” Clark, part Cherokee—and proud of it—from Oklahoma who was then commander of Task Group 58.1 and destined to become the greatest war chief in American Indian history, when he led the Seventh Fleet during the Korean War. Dad greatly admired the aggressive admiral, and proudly kept the tongue-incheek certificate he got for “One share in the Jocko Jima Development Corp.,” issued to TG 58.1 personnel after Clark’s devastating raids in the Bonin Islands during June-July 1944, as well as a cartoon he drew of “Jocko on the Warpath,” depicting Clark in a Sioux headdress, jumping up and down on a carrier deck while shooting arrows into Japanese in the Marianas and the Bonins. That would be considered politically incorrect today, but Clark had a great sense of humor— and thought Dad’s caricature of him so much more flattering than that of another on-board cartoonist, Radarman John A. Furlow, that he asked for the original.
More than 61 years later, Dad’s cartoon, along with Furlow’s, joined the photographs to illustrate Clark G. Reynolds’ supremely detailed biography On the Warpath in the Pacific: Admiral Jocko Clark and the Fast Carriers. Sadly, just days after getting the book, I learned that Dad had died. He would have loved to see Clark given his due—and been honored to have played his tiny part in it.
Career Navy officer Jocko Clark was arguably the most dramatic exception to the stereotype of the American Indian warrior as a guerrilla in woodland moccasins or on horseback on the Great Plains, but he is hardly the only one. Native Americans have distinguished themselves on land, sea and in the air throughout the 20th century, whether their comrades-in-arms noticed their heritage or not.
This issue includes a reminder that for hundreds of years the term “native American” has become harder to define, as new arrivals intermarried with the indigenous population almost from the onset. In Canada the centuries-old progeny of Indians, French explorers and trappers, and a variety of Scottish, English and other pioneers produced what amounted to a separate ethnic group, the French-speaking Métis. In 1885 they became the central figures in the North-West Rebellion, the bloodiest conflict fought on Canadian soil since it became an independent dominion. While Louis Riel was the rebellion’s political and religious leader, its martial mastermind was Gabriel Dumont, who applied his savvy about the plains to 19th-century warfare with deadly ingenuity (story, P. 22).
Peoples and traditions never remain static in the face of any outside influence—after all, the Plains Indians never realized they were “natural horsemen” until the Spanish brought the horse to the New World. By the same token, Jocko Clark found his sea legs in the 20th century. Perhaps the last and best word on the subject was said by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Seneca aide, Lt. Col. Ely S. Parker, at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, when surrendering Confederate General Robert E. Lee remarked to him, “I’m glad to see one real American here.” “We are all Americans,” Parker replied.
Originally published in the May 2006 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.