At the end of the ‘Indian Wars’ in the 19th century many Native American children were taken away from their parents and sent to school to become ‘civilized.’ The policy – ‘kill the Indian to save the child’ – meant cutting their hair, putting them in white people’s clothes, forbidding them to speak their own languages.
When the First World War broke out in Europe American Indians were not citizens of the country they lived in (in fact, they were only granted US citizenship in 1924). Their languages were considered obsolete. But then, in 1917, a group of 19 young Choctaw men arrived in Europe as part of the US Expeditionary Force.
Their story is told in the following memorandum:
Headquarters 142nd Infantry, A.E.F.
January 23, 1919, A.P.O. No. 796
From: C.O. 142nd Infantry
To: The Commanding General 36th Division (Attention Capt. Spence)
Subject: Transmitting messages in Choctaw
In compliance with memorandum, Headquarters 36th Division, January 21, 1919,to C.O. 142nd Infantry, the following account…