The French Croix de Guerre was awarded to French and allied soldiers, including 11,589 Americans, for their service during World War I and was authorized by French legislation on April 2, 1915. The Croix de Guerre was a medal with ribbon that was awarded with degrees based on the actions of the soldier and his role. The lowest degree was signified by the bronze star, while the highest was a bronze palm. Soldiers could receive multiple stars and palms for multiple acts of wartime gallantry. In some instances, whole military units and even French villages were awarded Croix de Guerres.
Private William J. Ashmun (Chippewa) earned a Croix de Guerre with gilt star when he displayed special bravery under fire by capturing a machine gun nest, killing one German soldier and capturing four more. He served with the 32nd Division, 127th Infantry, Machine Gun Company.
Private First Class Peter Oliver Barnaby (Flathead) fought with the 1st Division, 26th Infantry, Company I and was awarded a Croix de Guerre for his bravery in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Sergeant James M. Gordon (Chippewa) from Bayfield, Wisconsin, served in the 86th Division, 341st Infantry, Company G, where he received a Groix de Guerre when he rescued a French second lieutenant who was wounded in an inspection tour. Gordon was the driver of a motorcycle with side car when the officer was wounded. Gordon managed to get him to safety while being fired upon.
Private Joseph Isaac (Ottawa) of the 32nd Division, 125th Infantry, Company M was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star for his actions on July 31, 1918. “During the passage of the Ourcq near Sergy on July 31, 1918, although wounded, he displayed great courage in crawling into our lines carrying a wounded comrade on his back.” Additionally, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. He was wounded in the head and crawled approximately 150 yards through gunfire with his fellow soldier on his back.
Joseph Oklahombi (Choctaw) was a Private First Class in the 36th Division, 141st Infantry, Company D, and served as a Code Talker. Additionally, he was a recipient of a Croix de Guerre and a Silver Star with Victory Ribbon. His citation for the Croix de Guerre reads, “Under a violent barrage, dashed to the attack of an enemy position, covering about 200 yards through barbed wire entanglements. He rushed on Machine Gun Nests, capturing 171 prisoners. He stormed a strongly held position containing more than 50 Machine Gun Mortars. Turned the captured gun on the enemy, and held said position for four days, in spite of a constant barrage of large projectiles and of gas shells. Crossed ‘No man’s land’ many times to get information, concerning the enemy, and to assist his wounded comrades.” While Oklahombi did have help from about 20 other soldiers, his actions were meritorious, and many feel he should have been awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor as well.
Corporal Thomas Saunders (Northern Cheyenne) served in the 2nd Division, 2nd Engineers, Company A. At the Battle of St. Etienne-a-Arnes, he led a patrol under heavy fire on October 8, 1918, where he served with “alertness, coolness, and dependability, backed by fearlessness” according to his commanding officer.
Many other American Indians were awarded French Croix de Guerres for their bravery and courage during the frontline fighting on French soil. The French government awarded the Croix de Guerres to the Choctaw Nation and Comanche Nation in honor of the Code Talkers who helped to turn the tide of war and, ultimately, save France from total devastation.
The following men also received a French Croix de Guerre for their service: Frank J. Bell (White Earth Chippewa), Nicholas E. Brown (Choctaw), Willie Denver Brown (Oglala Lakota), Robert Carr (Muscogee (Creek)), Chester Armstrong Four Bear (Cheyenne River Sioux), Armado Garcia (Acoma Pueblo), William S. Harjo (Muscogee (Creek)), Peter LaFromway (Sioux), Otis Wilson Leader (Choctaw), Leo F. McGuire (Osage), John Harper Nick (Uncompahgre Ute), Joseph G. Ralls, Jr. (Choctaw), Daniel William Turner (Cherokee), and Pontiac Williams, Jr. (Ottawa).
Belgian Croix de Guerre
The Belgian Croix de Guerre was established by royal decree of the Kingdom of Belgium on October 25, 1915. It was awarded for bravery and other military virtue displayed on the battlefield to Belgian and allied soldiers, including 469 Americans. Calvin Atchavit (Comanche) received a Belgian Croix de Guerre for his bravery in the Battle of St. Mihiel.
Distinguished Service Cross
The Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest military honor that is given to a member of the U.S. Army. It was awarded for extreme gallantry at risk of life in combat with an enemy force. During World War I, over 6,000 men were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, including several American Indians. Among the recipients are William Penn Adair, II (Cherokee), Calvin Atchavit (Comanche), Frank J. Bell (White Earth Chippewa), Alfred G. Bailey (Cherokee), Richard Bland Breeding [Muscogee (Creek)], William McKinley Floyd (Cherokee), Jesse Albert James (Choctaw), Joseph P. LaJeunesse (White Earth Chippewa), Leo F. McGuire (Osage), Josiah A. Powless (Oneida), Thomas D. Saunders (Northern Cheyenne), Walter G. Sevalier (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa), Lawrence A. Vizenor (White Earth Chippewa), and Pontiac Williams (Ottawa).
Sergeant First Class William Penn Adair (Cherokee) received the Distinguished Service Cross “for extraordinary heroism in action near Montfaucon, France, October 24, 1918. After being severely gassed, he stayed at his post and ran his telephone lines through a terrific artillery barrage. He remained on duty, though he was blinded and could hardly talk, until his organization was relieved.”
Private Calvin Atchavit (Comanche) was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on September 12, 1918, at the Battle of St. Mihiel. He also received a Purple Heart and a Belgian Croix de Guerre. His citation read, “The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Private Calvin Atchavit, United States Army for extraordinary Heroism in action while serving with Company A, 357th Infantry Regiment, 90th Division, A.E.F. near Fey-en-Haye, France, 12 September 1918. During the attack of his company, though he had been severely wounded in his left arm, Private Atchavit shot and killed one of the enemy and captured another. General Orders 87 (1919): War Department.”
Sergeant Alfred G. Bailey (Cherokee) of the 38th Infantry, Company E received the Distinguished Service Cross “for extraordinary heroism in action near Moulins, France, July 15, 1918. Sergt. Bailey, unaided, killed two enemy machine gunners and captured a third, together with his machine gun.”
Sergeant Joseph P. LaJeunesse (White Earth Chippewa) of the 5th Division, 60th Infantry, Company D received the Distinguished Service Cross “for extraordinary heroism in action near Cunel, France, October 14, 1918. He retained the command of his platoon after he had received a severe gunshot wound in the leg, maintained the organization of his platoon under heavy fire, and directed it in the overcoming of several machine-gun positions. He consolidated his position on the line held by the company and remained on post 36 hours until ordered evacuated on account of his wound.”
Private First Class Leo F. McGuire (Osage) was the first American to receive the Distinguished Service Cross on August 9, 1918. He served with Section 647 of the Ambulance Service. His citation reads: “He was on duty as driver of an ambulance at an advanced post on April 19, 1918. During April 19 and 20, he made several trips to and from a dressing station reached by an exposed road in daylight for the purpose of bringing back wounded. On one of these trips, the ambulance was blown from the road by the explosion of a shell, and he was knocked unconscious by the shock. On recovering consciousness, he returned on foot. Although suffering from an injury in the back and not yet recovered from the shock, he wished to return to duty the afternoon of the dame day, but was not permitted to do so by the medical officers until the afternoon of the following day.”
First Lieutenant Josiah A. Powless (Oneida) with the 77th Division, 308th Infantry Medical Detachment received the Distinguished Service Cross “for extraordinary heroism in action near Chevieres, France, October 14, 1918. When notified that his colleague, Capt. James M. McKibben, had been wounded, Lieut. Powless immediately went forward to his assistance. He crossed an area subjected to intense machine-gun and constant artillery fire, reached his colleague, whose wound proved to be fatal, and after dressing his wounds had him carried to the rear. Lieut. Powless was seriously wounded while performing this service.” He died of his wounds received in action on November 6, 1918.
Corporal Thomas D. Saunders (Northern Cheyenne) of the 2nd Division 2nd Engineers, Company A received the Distinguished Service Cross “for extraordinary heroism in action at Jaulny, France, September 12, 1918. He and another soldier, who were acting as wire cutters with the first line of infantry, fought their way forward in advance of their units and were the first men to enter Jaulny while it was swept by machine-gun fire, infested with snipers, and still occupied by rear-guard detachments of the enemy. After capturing 8 Germans in a dugout they searched the caves in the town and took 55 additional prisoners.”
Corporal Walter G. Sevalier (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa) of the 7th Engineers, Company F received a Distinguished Service Cross “for extraordinary heroism in action near Brieulles, France, November 3, 1918. He swam the Meuse River with a cable for a pontoon bridge under direct machine-gun fire. Later he carried a cable for another bridge over the Est Canal across an open field covered by enemy machine guns. Here he was wounded by a machine-gun bullet, but returned carrying a message of great importance.” He was named one of the U.S. 100 most heroic soldiers of World War I by General Pershing for his actions. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Private First Class Lawrence A. Vizenor (White Earth Chippewa) of the 33rd Division, 132nd Infantry, Company I received the Distinguished Service Cross “for extraordinary heroism in action in the Bois-du-Fays, France, October 8, 1918. Pvt. Vizenor was a member of a reconnaissance patrol which encountered such intense fire from an enemy machine-gun nest that part of the patrol was driven back. Despite the heavy fire, he and another soldier, with an officer, continued forward and secured the information for which they were sent. The officer was mortally wounded, but Pvt. Vizenor and his comrade silenced the machine-gun nest by effective rifle fire, carried the wounded officer to the rear, and reported their valuable information concerning the enemy’s position.”
The Purple Heart was the successor to the Badge of Military Merit. It was revived on February 22, 1932, the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. The medal is awarded to those wounded or killed in action on or after April 5, 1917, in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. Any soldier who had been given the Meritorious Service Citation Certificate, Army Wound Ribbon, or a Wound Chevron during World War I was authorized to request a Purple Heart.
The following American Indian soldiers received the Purple Heart: Sam Beaver [Muscogee (Creek)], Gilbert Pahdi Conwoop (Comanche), Howard K. Davis (Miwok?), Russius Decorah (Ho-Chunk), Morris Boyd Denetdeel (Navajo), Tobias William Frazier (Choctaw), Delos Harris (Chickasaw), Johny John [Muscogee (Creek)], Otis Wilson Leader (Choctaw), Frank Lewis LeBarre (Comanche), John H. Longtail (Ho-Chunk), Edward Albert Nahquaddy (Comanche), Harrison Secondine (Cherokee), Huckleberry S. Shell (Cherokee), Herbert A. Sickles (Oneida), James Nathan Sittingdown (Cherokee), Samuel Tabbytosavit (Comanche), Mikey Tahdooahnippah (Comanche), Leonard Forrest Vanderhoop (Comanche), Jacob Wahkinney (Comanche), Harold Ferry Yoccum (Stockbridge Munsee).
Private Sam Beaver [Muskogee (Creek)] served with the 2nd Division, 23rd Infantry Company B as a rifleman during his regiment’s attack at the village of Landres-et-Saint-Georges, France, on November 1, 1918. He was killed in action and is now buried in the American Cemetery at Meuse-Argonne. He received a Purple Heart.
Private Gilbert Pahdi Conwoop (Comanche) served with the 90th Division, 357th Infantry, Company A, where he fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He was severely wounded in action in the arm on October 25, 1918, and was awarded a Purple Heart.
Private Leonard Forrest Vanderhoop (Wampanoag) served with the 77th Division 306th Field Artillery Battery B. He received a shrapnel wound in his lower left leg for which he was awarded a Purple Heart.
The Silver Star is the third highest military combat award given to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and is awarded for gallantry in action while engaged in combat against an enemy force. 661 Silver Stars were awarded to members of the U.S. Army for actions of valor during World War I. These American Indians received a Silver Star for their actions in France: Peter Oliver Barnaby (Flathead), William J. Bluesky (Chippewa), Otis Wilson Leader (Choctaw), Joseph Oklahombi (Choctaw), Huckleberry B. Shell (Cherokee), and Angus Oliver Teeple (Bay Mills Chippewa).
Private Joseph Oklahombi (Choctaw) was awarded a Silver Star for his actions at St. Etienne on October 8, 1918. These same actions earned him a Croix de Guerre.
Corporal Angus Teeple (Bay Mills Chippewa) received a Silver Star for his valor in France. “Corporal Teeple distinguished himself by gallantry in action while serving with Company M, 125th Infantry Regiment, 32d Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in action near Sergy, France, 31 July 1918, in crawling forward under heavy machine gun and artillery fire and bringing in a wounded comrade.”
American Indians in WWI Centennial Commission
Contact: Erin Fehr firstname.lastname@example.org
American Indians in World War I was created by the Sequoyah National Research Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Contributors: Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr. and Erin Fehr