Joe Medicine Crow: WW2 Veteran, Historian and Last Crow War ChiefThe Veterans Site
A piece of both Native American and American history died in April 2016 with the passing of Plains Indian War Chief, Joe Medicine Crow. Crow, the last surviving Crow war chief, was 103 years old and a veteran of World War II.
Medicine Crow, born in Montana in 1913, faced a hard upbringing on a Crow reservation before attending Linfield College in Oregon. In 1939, he earned a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Southern California, becoming the first person from his tribe to do so. Later, he returned to Oregon to teach in a Native American school. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1943, Medicine Crow, like 44,000 other Native Americans, enlisted in the army.
In order to be given the title of Crow War Chief, a warrior must perform certain deeds. He must successfully command a war party, disarm an enemy, touch a fallen enemy and enter an enemy’s camp and steal a horse.
Although he never set out to do so, Medicine Crow unwittingly accomplished these necessary feats during his time spent as a scout for Company K, 411th Infantry, 103rd Division, in World War II, making him the last person to do so. The first deed requirement was fulfilled when Medicine Crow led a party of six across open land to reach the French Maginot Line in 1944; all men made it safely back to their camp.
A few months later, he became involved in face-to-face combat with a German soldier after disarming and overtaking him, but Crow felt compassion for the man when the man, fearing his death, cried out for his mother. Medicine Crow released him, allowing him to live and fulfilling both the second and third deeds on the war chief deeds list.
Finally, when his company surrounded an SS camp, Medicine Crow captured an enemy horse, mounted the horse, and used the horse to stampede the SS regiment’s remaining horses, leaving the enemy without transportation. This action fulfilled the last of Medicine Crow’s tasks to become an official war chief among his people. In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded Joe Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom, noting that his life was reflective of the Crow’s warrior spirit and America’s highest ideals.
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