UA Little Rock Researchers Assist in Identifying Native American Soldiers Who Should Receive Posthumous Honors from World War I

Archivist Erin Fehr at work in Sequoyah National Research Center's archives.

Researchers at the UA Little Rock Sequoyah National Research Center are helping to determine if Native American soldiers who served during World War I should receive posthumous honors.

Sequoyah National Research Center employees have partnered with the George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War at Park University, which is the home of the Valor Medals Review Project and Task Force.

A team of researchers and historians are performing a systematic investigation due to their racial backgrounds. The task force members are researching African American, Native American, Asian American, Jewish American, and Hispanic American soldiers who served from 1914 to 1921.

To qualify, the service member must have received a Distinguished Service Cross/Navy Cross and/or the French Croix de Guerre with Palm and/or been recommended for a Medal of Honor but was downgraded. Nearly 215 service members have qualified for review, including two dozen Native Americans.

“The Robb Centre contacted us because the Sequoyah National Research Center has been doing a lot of research on Native Americans in World War I,” said Erin Fehr, an archivist and assistant director of Sequoyah National Research Center. “I have provided them with our entire list of Native Americans who served in World War I to review. Since that time, they have identified 24 American Indian men who served in World War I that qualify for review.”

Sequoyah has been preserving the history of Native American soldiers who served in World War I for many years. From 2017 to 2019, the Sequoyah National Research Center employees created a website on American Indians and Alaska Natives in the war for the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission. Researchers sought to identify all of the estimated 12,000 Native Americans who served during World War I. The website, launched in January 2019, contained more than 6,000 names and has since been archived by the Library of Congress.

Sequoyah has continued with its quest to identify all the Native American soldiers who served in World War I, which is now housed on a website called the Modern Warriors of World War I.

“If researchers at the Robb Centre find a Native American name that is not on our list, they send it to us to confirm membership in a tribe,” Fehr said. “This is exciting because we’ve actually found the names of some previously unidentified soldiers that we have added to our database.”

This flyer shows the Native American soldiers who served during World War I that qualify for the Valor Medals Review.
This flyer shows the Native American soldiers who served during World War I that qualify for the Valor Medals Review.

In 2018, U.S. Rep. French Hill’s office worked with Dr. Brian Mitchell, a former associate professor of history at UA Little Rock, to present the family of the late Pvt. Leroy Johnston, a victim of the Elaine Massacre, with medals he earned but did not receive during his service in World War I. This collaboration was the inspiration for the World War I Valor Medals Review Act, which was included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and is now law. It ensures that minorities who served in World War I are honored with proper recognition.

Sequoyah will continue assisting the Robb Centre’s work with the Valor Medals Review Project through 2025, when the task force comes to an end.

If a member of the public would like to submit the name of a Native American soldier who served in World War 1 to Sequoyah’s database, they may contact Fehr at ehfehr@ualr.edu or fill out this form.

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