Herman Viola speaks on American Indian involvement in wars


Viola said the U.S. Congress is starting to recognize the role of American Indians in the armed forces,

Herman Viola, a Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History curator emeritus and Marquette alumnus, spoke about American Indian veterans Monday night in the Alumni Memorial Union.

Viola shared stories and discussed occurrences regarding American Indian involvement in various U.S. wars. Around 50 people came to Viola’s presentation about the different experiences and stories he gathered from American Indian veterans from the War for Independence, the Civil War, the World Wars and the Middle East offensive.

“I wrote a book called ‘Warriors in Uniform’ which I worked on for about 30 years collecting stories of Indian veterans, and that’s something I got tasked with as an assignment,” he said in his speech.

Viola said the U.S. Congress is finally recognizing the role of American Indians in the armed forces, citing the Presidential Medal of Freedom being awarded to Crow Nation historian Joe Medicine Crow. He also talked about how Congress authorized the establishment of a memorial for American Indian war veterans.

“One of my jobs has been to go around Indian country for the past year to meet with Indian veterans, tell them about this (memorial) project, and ask them what they’d like to see done or not done and getting their feedback on it,” he said in his presentation.

Viola said the feedback has shown that most veterans want the memorial in a private place where they can pray and worship.

The event featured a hymn from Milwaukee’s Indian Community School students. Four veterans of the Oneida tribe stood as color guard during the opening ceremony.

Marquette graduate students who attended the presentation shared their thoughts on the importance of recognizing the roles of American Indians in war efforts.

Lisa Lamson, a graduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences, said events like this are important.

“There is a silence in the U.S. narrative that diminishes the role of American Indians and indigenous peoples’ patriotism, and events like this can help begin to bridge this gap and make sure that those who have been forgotten are recovered and honored in the same way,” she said.

Abby Bernhardt, a graduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences, said American Indians are usually seen as antagonists to the U.S.

“American Indians are always remembered as the enemy,” she said. “It’s very important to also remember that in every conflict the U.S. has been involved in, they’re also present as allies.”

Viola received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Marquette and his Ph.D. from Indiana University Bloomington. He joined the Smithsonian staff in 1972. He currently serves as the senior adviser to the National Museum of the American Indian.