Iron Mike – Gruntworks Contributing Blogger
Gather ‘round you rowdy bunch of assholes. I got some real shit to shovel on you today. Today’s military has gone soft; there’s no denying that. We are steadily cutting the standards, discipline, and warrior traditions that made our fighting force the most premier military in human history. I can’t do much about the shameful ‘progressive’ policies that were implemented in recent years that will inevitably reduce our force’s fighting ability and combat efficacy, but I can warn you – the young bucks that will carry the colors forward – of the dangers of losing your warrior traditions. Traditions that inculcate the mindset needed to fight and win on the battlefield, and it doesn’t really matter whether that is the battlefields of Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Remagen Bridge, the Ia Drang Valley, or Fallujah… The essential goals of our warrior traditions are all the same; to test for and eliminate weakness, to build a cohesive unit identity, to instill pride and motivation, and to improve performance. Think about the practice of ‘Blood Wings’ (For those of you Legs, that means having your jump wings punched into your chest – often by a unit leader as a mark of pride and accomplishment for a new paratrooper); it shows that you are a qualified paratrooper, that you can take the pain – or even enjoy it, that you are a member of a group who also got their ‘Blood Wings’ and will forever have a bond among your fellow paratroopers who have shared the experience. It gives a squad or platoon an identity of its own when every member has earned their ‘Blood Wings’; especially if it is a new group of soldiers who all earned their ‘Blood Wings’ together. It is a small enough event, but one that soldiers should aspire to and that gives extra incentive to train hard to pass Airborne School and then jump with your Airborne unit bragging about your rite of passage to anyone who will listen. Traditions like this, or the thousands that exist at the unit level are all essential to the spirit of the fighting man. Remember that scene in “We Were Soldiers” where the wounded men tell LTC Moore “Garry Owen Sir!” and go back out to the line to fight? That really happened. Do you think that kind of commitment to your fellow Grunt just happens in training because you like each other so much? Or do you think that maybe they had all been through some really shitty training together and got a sense of pride and duty instilled in them by traditions their leaders taught them and by the bonding experience of shared suffering? These days the (sometimes necessarily harsh) traditions that instill a fighting spirit and group identity are being chopped away by a military legal bureaucracy, political pressure, and policies to make the military “more inclusive” to the full spectrum of society’s special snowflakes. They don’t even teach the Bayonet Assault Course on Sand Hill any more. Today’s story is about a man who aspired to live up to his people’s proud warrior traditions. A man who served the United States and the Crow Nation at the same time and returned home victorious to be an inspirational leader to his people for decades to come. Today’s story is the tale of Chief Joe Medicine Crow, that last Crow Indian War Chief.
Joseph Medicine Crow (his Crow language name means “High Bird”) was born on Oct. 27, 1913, on the Crow Reservation near Lodge Grass, Montana with no doctors or nurses present – just a Crow medicine woman who welcomed him into the world with cedar incense and a sacred Crow song. His childhood was spent doing two major things; studying and spending time with his grandparents to learn the warrior ways and the history of his people.
Let me break here for a moment and shatter some illusions you may have about Native Americans… Native Americans are not the Disney “Pocahontas” peaceful eco-hippies that modern culture likes to pretend they were. It wasn’t the 19th Century version of “Avatar” where the natives run around in loincloths smoking dope and communing with the spirit of everything until the evil white man came and introduced them to war and genocide. Not even close. The tribes of North America were mostly nomadic and survived on constant warfare and raiding to secure food (and land on which to hunt it) from their many enemies, and they had a proud warrior tradition spanning thousands of years. Those big feathered headdresses of the Plains Indian tribes? That signified who the biggest badasses in the tribe were, and depending on the tribe each one of those feathers could signify a successful hunt, a successful war party, or even an enemy killed in combat. Man with the most feathers gets to be the big chief; and he was most certainly a certified badass that had been to war… and won. The stereotype of peaceful nomadic stone-age flower-children chain-smoking their hash-pipes and communing with Grandmother Willow is a creation of Hollywood; and the neo-pagan revival movements of the 1960’s popularized by the beatniks too cowardly to fight in Vietnam. Fuck those long-haired granola munchers. The natives were proud warriors and we should never let that piece of history disappear under the PC bullshit the dirty strung-out worthless hippies spawned…
Anyway, Joe spent his childhood hunting, tracking, and learning from his elders. His paternal grandfather was Chief Medicine Crow, the only living Crow war chief at the time – and considered the bravest man in the tribe’s history. His step-grandfather (named ‘White Man Runs Him’) had served as a scout for the US 7th Cavalry in the wars against the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Sioux. His tribe – The Crow – were traditional enemies of the Lakota and allied themselves with the United States. His step-grandfather had been a witness to the slaughter of George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn and had been one of the scouts that tried to warn Custer of the massing native army in the area. Joe was a bright young man and was eager to learn the ways of his people and absorbed as much of their oral history as he could. He became a master of the woods and horseback riding in the tradition of the Crow. He wrote down many of the stories recanted to him by his grandparents, and in 1929 – while in the 8th grade – he began a course of study at Bacone College in Oklahoma and continued to study for the next decade. In 1936, he earned an Associate’s Degree, followed 2 years later by a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Sociology. In 1939, he became the first member of the Crow Nation to earn a Master’s Degree while he completed an Master’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Southern California (He would give the commencement address there in 2003). On September 1st that same year this guy named Adolf Hitler started being a real cocksucker to his neighbor Poland and then proceeded to generally fuck up most of Europe in the months to follow. This wouldn’t have been a big deal to Joe, except on December 7th of 1941 Germany’s ally Japan decided to bomb the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor… Now the war was an American issue.
Joe Medicine Crow spent the initial year of the war working in the naval shipyards of Bremerton, WA. Then in 1943 he enlisted in the Army with the resolve to fight, as his ancestors had, in this new great war against Fascism. “My grandfather was Great War Chief Medicine Crow, he was considered the bravest warrior of all-time so he was also my inspiration to follow in his footsteps. He kept training me to become a warrior…” Joe said years later in an interview regarding his choice to enlist. “My goal was to be a good soldier, to perform honorably in combat, if the occasion should occur…” He told a reporter from the Billings Gazette in 2006. Joe Medicine Crow was going to take his people’s warrior tradition to fight the Nazis, and test himself as a man of his tribe. Before he left home his tribe’s elders gifted him with a yellow-painter eagle feather as a spiritual totem to protect him from harm and as a reminder of his people. He would wear this feather under his helmet along with his people’s traditional red war-paint on his arms under his GI uniform as he went into battle, and there would be plenty of that.
Joe would serve in the US Army’s 103rd Infantry Division (The “Cactus Division”) beginning in 1943. The Division started as a reserve unit, but was called up for training to ready them for deployment to the European theater the next year. The 103rd would land at Marseilles, France on October 20th, 1944 and by November 11th the 103rd had relieved the 3rd Infantry Division and was in full combat with the Germans. The Cactus Division fought through the French town of St. Die des Vosges, and into the winter of 1944 they found themselves facing fierce German opposition as the Americans pushed towards the Siegfried Line – the last major defensive line between the Americans and invading central Germany. Among the men was Private Joe Medicine Crow serving as a company scout just as his grandfather had nearly 80 years before for the 7th Cavalry against the Lakota. He was determined to make his people proud and live up to their warrior traditions. He would go on to become their most famous War Chief and lead his people into the 21st Century…
As a child Joe’s grandfather would make him run barefoot through the snow to toughen his feet, swim icy creeks to build his endurance, and inculcated him the natural cunning to track and hunt wild game. As the 103rd Infantry Division prepared to breach the Siegfried line Joe would put these life lessons to work. He was a skilled scout and his years of drilling with his grandfather in the woods paid dividends. It turns out stalking game in Montana in the winter isn’t a whole lot different than scouting Nazi positions in France in the winter. Moving ahead of his unit – often alone – with his senses attuned to the sounds of nature around him, Joe was quick to spot danger and report it back to his commander. As his reputation for his scouting abilities grew, he was tasked with ever-more dangerous assignments. When his unit was fixed by the Germans near fortified positions of the Siegfried Line, Joe was given a task: lead 7 men to retrieve explosives from a fallen American position to be used to destroy the German fortifications. Private Medicine Crow successfully led the men without taking a single casualty – and he had just counted his first coup.
In the tradition of the Crow people, to hold the honored title of War Chief a warrior must complete four dangerous tasks, known as “Counting Coup”:
1) Lead a successful War Party
2) Be the first to touch an enemy, but not kill him
3) Take an enemy’s weapon
4) Steal an enemy’s horse
Counting Coup is a warrior tradition among many Plains Indian tribes. It is a practice to instill cunning and bravery among young warriors and inspire them to daring deeds in order to prove themselves before their tribe. It took skill, daring, and intelligence to infiltrate an enemy camp and make off with a weapon or a horse. Armed enemies patrolled their camps, weapons and horses were often kept close by an enemy warrior’s tent and escaping through enemy territory with a bunch of pissed off braves trying to kill you and take your shit led to the deaths of many young warriors of all tribes. The man who came back with his life and his Coups counted – would be an instant celebrity and honored as a great warrior, the highest accolade one could attain.
Joe had just completed the first task by leading the men to destroy the German position with explosives. “If anyone could do it, it was you.” His commander told him. Now Joe would count his next two Coup as his unit advanced into Germany. A short time later as his Company pushed forward into a small German town, a German position was firing at the advancing Americans. Joe was tasked to sneak around behind the houses the Germans were firing from up a back alley and eliminate the positions. As Joe ran for the back door of one of the houses a young German soldier ran out the back and they crashed head-first into one another. The collision sent the German’s rifle flying, but Joe kept his firmly in his hands. Then, instead of doing what a sane man would have done and pulled the trigger on the dirty Kraut – Joe did something surprising… He dropped his own rifle and started beating the ever-living shit out of the German with his bare hands… The German soldier fought back but Joe had the advantage. He got the German in a good old-fashioned rape choke and was going to wring the life from his worthless Nazi body, but as he strangled the German, the German looked at him and cried out “Mama!” … Joe realized this soldier was very young and made the decision not to kill him. The German and his comrades were quickly rolled up and captured by the advancing Americans. Joe had just counted his second and third Coup – touch an enemy without killing him, and take an enemy’s weapon.
The last task on Joe’s list would come some days later, as he scouted ahead for SS positions in the area forward of his unit. As Joe moved ahead (alone again) he came across a farm with a large number of horses, a few guards, and what appeared to be a group of SS officers. These Germans were likely Waffen SS battalion staff officers that were retreating deeper into Germany and collecting up all the local horses to be pressed into service by the Wehrmacht – which at this point in the war had lost most of its vaunted armored vehicles (either immobilized by lack of fuel, or destroyed by allied aircraft) – to use to draw supply trains and move artillery pieces. Joe saw his opportunity. He radioed back to headquarters and a company of GI’s moved up to meet him led by a Captain, they isolated the farm and set in positions late in the evening with the order to attack just before dawn. Joe Medicine Crow asked the officer to make a slight change to his plans and let him sneak in there and stampede the horses away from the Germans before the Americans opened fire. The Captain agreed.
Private Joe Medicine Crow used his wilderness expertise and cunning to infiltrate the barn holding some of the horses and used a piece of rope to tie an “Indian Bridle” and mounted one of the animals bareback in the tradition of his people. With a loud war yell he lead the dozens of horses stampeding out of the corral as his comrades opened fire on the confused and startled SS… One of the SS officers fired his sidearm at Joe from the house’s front door while still in his undergarments. The Americans quickly seized the structure and killed or captured the remaining Germans. Joe Medicine Crow had counted his fourth and final Coup. Joe would go on to serve with the 103rd through the end of the war. He helped liberate Kaufering, a sub-camp of Dachau Concentration Camp in Bavaria, and then continued through Germany and into Austria where the 103rd linked up with the 88th Infantry Division; connected the Italian and Western fronts. He would return home after his discharge from the Army and begin a lifetime of service to his tribe on the Crow reservation in Montana.
In his 2006 book “Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond” Joe recounts his feelings on the subject of becoming a War Chief:
“While I was in the service in World War II, I was just another soldier, and didn’t intentionally set out to fulfill the Crow Indian requirements to become a war chief. I just happened to complete all four. So when I came back, I went through a Crow tradition known as “telling of war deeds.” A certain man is selected once in a while to get up at a big gathering and recite his war deeds for the benefit of young warriors, as part of their education. I hadn’t really thought about it, but they asked me, “Did you capture enemy’s warrior, an enemy’s gun?” I said, “Well, yeah.” “Did you ever lead a war party?” “Yeah.” And so on through the four deeds. So, they gave me the status of a Crow War Chief. I was probably the only Crow boy at the time who had completed those four things. Some had completed one, maybe two. But, that’s how I became a bonafide Crow Indian War Chief.”
Just by keeping with the traditions of his people and serving his country in a war, Joseph Medicine Crow of the Whistling Water Clan had risen to the highest position within the Crow nation. In his years of service his eagle feather given to him before he shipped out stayed with him, “I never got a scratch.” He remarked with pride in an interview over 60 years later. Joe would go on to finish his Doctorate degree and serve the Crow Nation in various capacities for the next 7 decades. He would author 5 books about the Crow people and his legacy as their chief. He would be awarded with 3 honorary Doctorates, address the United Nations in 1999, and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the nation’s highest award for a civilian) from President Obama in 2009 for his work as an ambassador for his tribe and military service. Chief Joe Medicine Crow passed away peacefully at the age of 102 in his tribe’s homeland near Billings, Montana on April 3rd, 2016. He was laid to rest with over 2,000 people in attendance at Apsaalooke Veterans Cemetery with full tribal and military honors.
Now you see how important this man’s warrior traditions were to his success, his identity, and his place among his tribe as a warrior and a man of honor and distinction. That same type of mentality needs to be instilled in future generations of American servicemen, especially the grunts who will bear the costs and earn the honors of any future conflicts. Learn your unit’s history, always look for ways to distinguish yourself through trials and rites of passage, push yourself for the next challenge. Senior leaders, you need to pass the warrior traditions that were taught to you to the future generations as the Crow people do. You need to be the old warrior that inspires younger generations to great deeds of valor and bravery; and who leads them by example. The traditions of our military are under attack, mostly by weak people who never served and do not understand what a warrior culture is or why it is necessary. Don’t let the social engineers do to you what they tried to do to the warriors of the Crow Nation:
“The government tried their best to transform these people into the ways of the white man. Yeah, they tried all right, but we had what you might call ‘cultural persistence’.” – Chief Joe Medicine Crow, 2006. Now the government is trying to take the traditions of the US military away, and you must resist that as the Crow people resisted the destruction of their warrior culture. Go run barefoot and toughen your feet, go train hard today, go to Ranger School (before some female politician with a case of the Femmerrhoids demands the standards be lowered again so more women can pass – like with the FDNY) and earn your tab! Earn your place among warriors and never let them take it from you. Never allow weakness to fester in your ranks by forgoing the practices and culture that made you who you are! Being a weak sensitive little bitch is easy and these days it’s encouraged, but weak men don’t count coup – and even a private can be a War Chief if he has the stones to man up and follow his warrior tradition…