ACADEMIC REVIEWS

1.

Chag Lowry, The Original Patriots: Northern California Indian Veterans of World War Two (P.O. Box 185, Eureka, California, 95501), photographs, maps, illustrations, poster, epilogue, notes, bibliography, 270 pages, $49.00.
 
Standing on the hill overlooking the World War II Memorial in Washington, D. C., visitors are struck by the dignity of the honoring memorial. It is a solemn place, commanding the landscape that flows down to the reflection pool and Lincoln Memorial. Up close, the World War II Memorial is a moving place, with water flowing in pools and fountains near the various states and nations that sent their men and women to war to fight the Axis Powers threatening the world in the 1930s and 1940s. The state of California is prominent at the monument, and several veterans stop by the site to have their pictures taken there. Without warning, my wife, Lee Ann, approached one of these California veterans. She asked if he had fought in the war, and when he acknowledged that he had, she offered her hand, saying “thank you for risking your life for all of us. We appreciate what you did to save the world.” This unexpected act of acknowledgement choked me up. These men and women had sacrificed so much for so many, and they waited a long time before the United States recognized their service through a national monument.

Chag Lowry has offered another kind of honoring through a wonderful book that details the lives of several American Indian veterans. Through The Original Patriots, he introduces readers to many Native California men and women through this unique and moving book. By researching and writing this original volume, Lowry has provided readers with a chance to meet some of the brave men and women who served their country and brought honor to themselves, their people, families, and the state of California. He focuses on the people and their contribution to the war effort, primarily through oral interviews that he details in the book. Thus, in addition to providing a narrative history, he offers several documents through the oral testimony of several Native American veterans that students and scholars alike may use in future research.

The author opens his book with an insightful Introduction in which he offers details about the California Gold Rush and boarding school experiences of American Indian people in California. In so doing, he demonstrates that in spite of the physical genocide brought by Americans to Native Californians during the 1850s and 1860s and the cultural genocide brought by the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American Indian people from California were patriotic during times of war. In fact, Lowry presents ample evidence that California Indians have been some of the most patriotic people in the nation during World War I and World War II. Lowry writes about some of the veterans of World War I before examining the origins of World War II. Then he skillfully begins his vignettes of American Indian men and women who served in the European Theater of war, the Home Front, the Arsenal for Democracy, and the Pacific Theater.

Lowry’s book contains sixty oral interviews with California Indian people, interviews that contain a wealth of information about the individuals and their lives during the war. Lowry makes a major effort to include the voices of California Indian women, and he carefully puts their words into context. The names and faces are numerous, and the meaning of this volume is deep. Lowry interviewed men and women from tribes of northern California, including Maidu, Yurok, Pit River, Washoe, Shoshone, Karuk, Wiyot, Tolowa, Hupa, and Paiute people. The book is lavishly illustrated with color and black and white photographs, and it contains several maps that help to orient readers to the subjects provided within the various stories. Lowry writes with a flare, and his prose moves swiftly across the page, making this book a good read. The book is well researched and presented in a personal, engaging manner that will invite readers to return to the narrative again and again. Every page is filled with information and interpretation, written by a passionate author who cares about history and education. The book invites readers to think and learn through a series of excellent stories. Readers of all ages will enjoy this penetrating volume. The volume will change the way people think about World War II and the contribution of American Indian veterans during the great conflict.
 
Clifford E. Trafzer, Professor of History
Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs
University of California, Riverside

2.

The stories told in The Original Patriots: Northern California Indian Veterans of World War Two are remarkable and instructive on many grounds. As I read through this extraordinary documentation of heroism and human resilience by Chag Lowry, I could not help wondering: why were these indigenous men and women willing to serve a nation that had so greatly misused and abused them? From what deep well of devotion and love of country did they draw the intense patriotism and loyalty they demonstrated in their willingness to participate and give their all as members of the armed services? Where did they get the strength and forbearance to overlook the past and to align themselves so completely to a society that had not even deemed them worthy of citizenship until 1924, less than 2 decades before the beginning of WWII?

In the introductory chapter, Mr. Lowry presents a brief historical account of the treatment of California Indians by the European settlers and the U. S. military––a story of enslavement, massacre, and inhumane treatment, that was genocidal in its intent and practice. Had the boarding schools they attended, which many of the veterans mentioned in their interviews, successfully assimilated them into the larger society even as these schools tried to eliminate their cultural and linguistic ties to their own families and peoples?

Many of Mr. Lowry’s interviewees reported that when the war began, they volunteered to fight for their country rather than wait to be drafted. They were brave, idealistic, and very young. Despite the miserable treatment endured by their communities, they identified themselves completely as Americans, without consideration of what being American meant, and whether or not America deserved their allegiance. America was at war, and as Americans, they were ready to do their part.
Reading between the lines, I realized that for many of these California Indians the war was a turning point in how they saw themselves. They may have experienced some discrimination in the service, but more importantly, they were fully integrated as members of their companies and platoons. For example, when Johnny Smith (Mountain Maidu and Pitt River) was asked “Did you become close to the other men in your company,” he replied:

“We were really buddies. We hung right together. We were real friends. It was just like your family; you get so attached to them.”

If Indians and non-Indians were segregated and divided before the war, the intense experience of living and fighting side by side brought everyone together and allowed them to discover their common humanity. Many of the interviewees commented on how friendships formed during the war continued after it was over. It also appears that the patriotism which is so powerful among American Indians grew out of that experience. This is not to say that Indians were not patriotic to their country before the war. But there is a difference between patriotism to a nation, and patriotism to one’s country. A nation is a political entity, separate and distinct from other nations. One’s country, the land of one’s origin, represents a sacred connection between place and people. Indians have always been patriots to their country, but they added patriotism to the nation and larger society during the war years. Asked, “What does the American flag mean to you?” Lee Hover (Karuk) responded,
“I fought for it. I respect it. I respect the thoughts behind the flag. I may not respect some of the things we do in the name of our flag, but I respect our flag, to the utmost.”

And that summarizes the powerful message of The Original Patriots. It is a message of generosity of spirit, and the power of forgiveness. As Mr. Lowry writes:
“Native Americans have a unique status among all American citizens. Our sovereign rights can be easily misunderstood and even feared. What must be remembered is that Native veterans who served in World War One and World War Two fought and helped preserve the sovereign United States and they helped preserve the sovereignty of their own people.” (p. 15)

Lily Wong Fillmore
Linguist & Educator
Professor Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley

3.

The Original Patriots: Northern California Indian Veterans of World War Two
By Chag Lowry
Published: April 2007
Ages: 11 thru Adult

Chag Lowry’s The Original Patriots is not just a book on “warriors” or “military heroes” with war stories. It is our oral Native history being shared through common themes: A history of California that started less than 150 years ago; but has roots in the valleys since time immemorial.

There is an introduction of how Chag himself became interested in the stories of his elders, particularly stories about veterans. You yourself can visualize your grandparents reminiscing around the dinner table or at family gatherings, laughing, crying, swapping stories, in English and possibly your own Native languages; pulling you into the stories and pages he has written. With seven pages he gives you the history of Northern California Native peoples, The Gold Rush, Boarding Schools, Reservation Systems that are less than 150 years old, and the fact that Native Americans served to protect the Sovereignty of the United States even when their sovereignty or even citizenship was not acknowledged.

Written in an interview format Chag, (who is Maidu, Pit River, and Yurok), makes sure to ask questions of where and when the interviewee’s were born, who their parents and siblings were, if and where they went to school, if they attended traditional ceremonies, what type of job they had while in the service and what it was like growing up. Chag was able to obtain pictures of the interviewee’s that allow you to see them as they were and as they are now.

Thank you, Chag, for taking the time to meet and interview so many of our elders and capture their stories for all of our generations to come.

Marlette Grant-Jackson
Indian Teacher & Educational Personnel Program (ITEPP) –Curriculum Resource Center Coordinator & Student Services Advisor at Humboldt State University
1 Harpst Street, House #93, Arcata, CA 95521

4.

With unblinking honesty and lack of sentimentality, the Native American WWII veterans interviewed for this book tell their stories eloquently. Because they speak from the heart, their words are powerful and impart to us a history lesson not likely to be found in mainstream history books. Journalist Chag Lowry has done us all a great service in lovingly recording these stories and then finding the resources to publish them in book form. Our country is changing to become a better, more inclusive place, and it is due in no small part to efforts like Mr. Lowry's, grassroots labors of love to right a wrong, to document those who have been left out too often. It is high time that all Americans recognize and acknowledge how these Original Patriots have helped to shape our country. We owe each of them an enormous debt of gratitude.

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Journalism
University of Texas School of Journalism 
Dir. U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project
www.lib.utexas.edu/ww2latinos/" www.lib.utexas.edu/ww2latinos/

Website copyright 2007, 2009 by Chag Lowry

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