Honoring the Valiant Heroes of WWII

NHBP Veterans Pay Tribute in Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered these famed words to Congress after the crushing surprise attack on U.S. naval base Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii, which left more than 2,400 people dead and another 1,000 wounded.

Within 24 hours of the ambush, America had declared war against Japan and officially entered World War II.

The attack, so close to the mainland, inspired many Native Americans to join the war effort. Of the 350,000 Native Americans in the U.S. at the time, nearly 44,000 of them enlisted in the Armed Forces, making them the demographic with the highest rate of servicemembers throughout WWII. In fact, in certain Tribal Nations, 70% of the men in a single Nation enlisted, according to the USO.

One Native who answered the call to serve was young Charles Shay from the Penobscot Nation. Now an internationally recognized and decorated war hero for his brave actions in WWII, 96-year-old Shay traveled to Hawaii for the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade to commemorate the lives lost on that fateful day 80 years ago. Shay was among a handful of surviving WWII Veterans honored at the parade for their courage in service.

To celebrate Shay’s legacy and the impact Native Americans had on the war, NHBP Veterans Doug Taylor and Tom Foerster made the trek to Pearl Harbor to pay their respects, make the Native American war effort known and walk in the 80th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade.

The road to Honolulu was bumpy for Foerster and Taylor, the NHBP Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and chair of the Ogitchedaw Society. Before entering Hawaii, strict COVID-19 precautions required meticulous planning and documentation and health screens. Eventually, after a case of missing identification and a lost luggage scare, the pair landed in Oahu – only to be met with an onslaught of thunderstorms and flash flooding.

After days of slogging through the torrential downpour with their delegation of Native Veterans from around the country, on the day of the parade, the sun finally broke through the clouds in Honolulu, as if the Creator was blessing the gathering that day.

Taylor, Foerster and others from the group Smudged before taking their place in the front row during the parade’s opening ceremonies, proudly displaying their flags and Eagle Staffs. Dancers, choirs and bands from across the U.S. paid tribute to the WWII Veterans being honored that day before a Midway survivor recounted the critical battle in the Pacific.

As night began to fall, WWII Veterans kicked off the parade, with the band of Native Veterans marching on behind them as onlookers lined up down the 1-mile stretch of Kalakaua Avenue to cheer them on and shout their thanks.  

“I was astonished at all the people there to honor those who sacrificed everything for our nation,” said Foerster, who was stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1986 and spent several months at the Tripler Army Medical Center following an injury that eventually led to his medical discharge. “People of all ages and from all over the country. I have never experienced such a great community as I did that day.”

Over the next couple of days, with the sun officially there to stay, the group toured the USS Missouri battleship and took the short boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial to show their reverence for all those buried in the waters below.

However, for Taylor and Foerster, the trip’s high point was an impromptu meeting with Shay in his hotel lobby mere hours before Shay’s departure to his home abroad in France.

Though Taylor had met Shay before during the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this uninterrupted quality time to express what Shay meant to him and other Native Americans was priceless. “It was one of the highlights of my life,” an emotional Taylor said.

The two NHBP Veterans presented the esteemed Shay with two Potawatomi blankets and an NHBP Tribal flag, sharing a laugh about his love for turtles. Before leaving for the airport, Shay gifted Taylor and Foerster with French chocolate and made sure to extend an invitation to see him again in France.

As chair of the Ogitchedaw Society, Taylor plans to visit this summer and hopes their continued advocacy will inspire future generations of the Tribe to heed the call and serve their country.

“I feel honored that I was able to represent our NHBP Nation,” Foerster said. “It reassured me that going into the military was not a mistake, and I would encourage any of our young Tribal Members to consider the military service.”

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