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Bomb Flesh: Unknown Warriors in the Liberation of France

Julianne Jennings
9/25/12

Thirty-nine year old David Constantin (French) and one of the organizers of the recent three-day event, Standing Buffalo Commemorative Days (August 30-September 1, 2012), honoring Native peoples who fought in the liberation of France during the First and Second World War, attracted more than 2,000 people at Parc d’ Olhain, Pas de Calais, France. The gathering was a preliminary celebration that brought together American Indian singers, dancers, drummers and others from France, Canada, United States, and South America as France prepares for its centennial, slated for 2014, marking the beginning of World War I in Europe.

Constantin started researching Indians who fought in the wars when he was 18, and has since created an activist group called Regagner Les Plaines (Regain the Plains), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the rights and culture of Native Americans in Europe. He asserts, “Indians and African Americans were often referred to by the French as "bomb flesh"—disposable human lives for U.S. military action, being fought on the frontlines of France, against Germany.” He continues, “My grandfather was a prisoner of the Nazis in Germany, and thanks to the Indians, who first set foot on the beach at Normandy, he survived.” He says, “This event is our way of commemorating their service to our country’s freedom. It’s also personal.”

Historically, Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups. This Native American service with the U.S. actually goes back to the Revolutionary War when they were allies, when Native people served next to Gen. George Washington and his Continental Army. Some Native troops also served in the Carolinas and Virginia against the British Army. Native scouts were present at the British surrender at Yorktown. Continuing through the War of 1812, Indians served as auxiliary troops and scouts during the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848; the American Civil War, 1861-1865; and served as Rough Riders and seeing action in Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Indians would later accompany Gen. John J. Pershing's expedition to Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1916.

As the military entered the 20th century, American Indians would play an even larger role in military theaters worldwide.

According to the United States Department of Defense by CEHIP, Inc. of Washington, D.C., in partnership with Native American advisors Rodger Bucholz, William Fields and Ursula P. Roach in 1996, “It is estimated that more than 12,000 American Indians served in the United States military in World War I. Approximately 600 Oklahoma Indians, mostly Choctaw and Cherokee, were assigned to the 142nd Infantry of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division. The 142nd saw action in France and its soldiers were widely recognized for their contributions in battle. Four men from this unit were awarded the Croix de Guerre, while others received the Church War Cross for gallantry.”

The report continues, “More than 44,000 American Indians, out of a total Native American population of less than 350,000, served with distinction between 1941 and 1945 in both European and Pacific theaters of war.” And, “Battle-experienced American Indian troops from World War II were joined by newly recruited Native Americans to fight Communist aggression during the Korean conflict…More than 42,000 Native Americans, more than 90 percent of them volunteers, fought in Vietnam. Native American contributions in United States military combat continued in the 1980s and 1990s as they saw duty in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, and the Persian Gulf.”

Joining Constantin is Jean Marc Tavernier (Cheyenne-Lakota), who was stolen, as a baby, from his parents and illegally brought to France and later adopted, heads Oyate Lakota Association. He is often assisted by his wife Hél?na Manien (French), who helped organize the event, performed a prayer ceremony that concluded with the laying of a wreath, while others gave tobacco offerings at the grave site of Canadian Soldier Joseph Standing Buffalo, for whom the event is named, and the grandson of Sitting Bull. Also in attendance were Mayor Jean-Claude Blouin, Pas de Calais, France and Canadian Counselet Marie José Ayme. Both dignitaries offered their hands in friendship by thanking the group for their effort in making the public aware of the military contributions and sacrifice of Native Americans. Their participation also signals the beginning of wanting to heal the past. Parc d’ Olhain manager Yanik Audinot, also showed support by graciously donating performance space, cabins and free meals to those who participated in the event. Valerie Marie, President of the non-profit group,

Sacred Amerindians People, had printed all the fliers; I even managed to slip a copy of This Week From Indian Country Today to the Canadian Consulate!

Standing Buffalo was laid to rest 29 September, 1918 at Bucquoy Road War Cemetery, Ficheux. Pas de Calais. According to Jean Marc, “Most Europeans believe American Indians stopped existing around the 1800s or shortly after Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows had ended.”

Yann Castelnot (French), like most 13-year-old boys, imagined the days of the old Wild West where cowboys defeat the Indians. According to his mother, Annick Bouquet, “He believed, like many others, Indians were an extinct race until he came across a photo of an Indian decorated with war medals.” Over time, his curiosity - or perhaps cosmic intervention - brought him to the grave of Standing Buffalo, the grave that started his military research journey. Now, at thirty, he is president of Association de Recherché des Anciens Combattants Amérindiens (ARACA), an association that seeks to find Indians who fought for freedom in modern wars, especially the two world wars, provided several display panels showcasing maps, letters, and photographs of Indians who had enlisted in the wars for the event. More moving were the piles of personal folders collected by Castelnot and his organization from the First World War to our current day.

He says, “I have fond 85,655 names of Native veterans (69,056 USA; 9,274 Canada; 7,325 South America), including 19,509 documents containing photos, enlistment papers, and military files.” The per-capita death toll is also staggering.

Costelnot continues, “I have also collected 11,917 graves: 2,591 dead at war; 9,326 veterans dead.” One French observer, who wished to remain anonymous remarked, “Indian bodies were not sent back to the United States because they were considered forgotten bodies. They were savages and not people. The U.S. and Canada said—you can keep them.”

There is little information regarding Native American women who also fought and died in military action which suggests still more research needs to be done.

Charles Chibitti (Comanche Code Talker), who served in the Sixth Army Signal Company in the 4th Infantry Division, survived the Battle of Normandy and earned the European Theater of Operations Victory Medal with five Bronze Stars, gifted Yann his medal, before he died in 2005, for his tireless dedication in researching unknown Warriors, who now laid buried, with a name and with honor.

For more information contact Yann Castelnot at Castelnot@hotmail.com; or click here.

Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.

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nellie4756's picture
Well written and very informative, this article by Julianne Jennings is highly effective in getting the information out to others about the service to all nations done by the people of the Americas' First Nations. If more literature of this style were presented in just as interesting a format and articles, with the clarity and understanding of this author, the world would be a much better informed place. We can all use a better education and comprehension of the contributions Native Americans have made to the history of the U S and the world.
nellie4756
gsevalikova's picture
I was shocked to read here that the governments of America and Canada would not allow the bodies of Native soldiers to be retured to their respective countries! That sounds so insane as to be unbelievable,and makes American leaders appear spiteful,venal. Is there a way to repatriate them now,under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act? And who were the people in charge that gave such orders for the soldiers to stay in France? Can any action be taken to seek justice?
gsevalikova
claudiahaddad's picture
It's fabulous!! Accuracy in details, perfect, something that only Julie Jennings can deliver!!!! Loved it, I was there!!! At 63 I've learned a new term "BOMB FLESH" some one also told me that there was another term used, "Bullet Sponges"!!! Disposable lives usually considered of non important race, I also have heard stories from my grandfather and father about this, both veterans of WWI WWII Korean conflict for my Grandpa, my father WWII, but I never paid much mind. Now I realized that this was the consideration given by our governments to Natives that went to WWI I'm sure the following wars, dead Natives soldiers were treated a lot more with respect and their romaines were taken back home, but I'm not that sure if all were taken back, because around Europe there are many military cemetery than have many soldiers from many countries also form WWII. Now let me reply to gsevalikova September 27, 2012 I wanted to tell this person that the say "BOMB FLESH" is a French translation of what the French called the first soldiers coming on and took the first bullets to open a path for the ones behind in WWI they were considered disposable flesh usually Blacks and people of non important race. Yes repatriation could be done if you had lots and lots of money, some people talk just for the sake of talking or jealousy makes them talk, most times without knowing what they talking about and whats involved for repatriation. The respective tribes need to have a place to put this bodies, and plenty money to ask for repatriation!!! My dear friend, Jacqui Koomar Moodie (Algonquin Cree) from Canada, which lives in England for over 30 years is an expert of repatriation issues, she has been involved in many of them from museums, get info from her, make sure you have a fat wallet gsevalikova, the process is complex,long and costly!!! (Jacqkoo@aol.com)
claudiahaddad
claudiahaddad's picture
It's fabulous!! Accuracy in details, perfect, something that only Julie Jennings can deliver!!!! Loved it, I was there!!! At 63 I've learned a new term "BOMB FLESH" some one also told me that there was another term used, "Bullet Sponges"!!! Disposable lives usually considered of non important race, I also have heard stories from my grandfather and father about this, both veterans of WWI WWII Korean conflict for my Grandpa, my father WWII, but I never paid much mind. Now I realized that this was the consideration given by our governments to Natives that went to WWI I'm sure the following wars, dead Natives soldiers were treated a lot more with respect and their romaines were taken back home, but I'm not that sure if all were taken back, because around Europe there are many military cemetery than have many soldiers from many countries also form WWII. Thank you Julie for this article!!!
claudiahaddad
claudiahaddad's picture
Now let me reply to gsevalikova September 27, 2012 I wanted to tell this person that the say "BOMB FLESH" is a French translation of what the French called the first soldiers coming on and took the first bullets to open a path for the ones behind in WWI they were considered disposable flesh usually Blacks and people of non important race. Yes repatriation could be done if you had lots and lots of money, some people talk just for the sake of talking or jealousy makes them talk, most times without knowing what they talking about and whats involved for repatriation. The respective tribes need to have a place to put this bodies, and plenty money to ask for repatriation!!! My dear friend, Jacqui Koomar Moodie (Algonquin Cree) from Canada, which lives in England for over 30 years is an expert of repatriation issues, she has been involved in many of them from museums, get info from her, make sure you have a fat wallet gsevalikova, the process is complex,long and costly!!! (Jacqkoo@aol.com)GOOD LUCK!!!!
claudiahaddad
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yes, that right, but my friend all ways said it is not, but i know you and me are right.
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