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Native American Vietnam Veteran Pouch

Pouch obtained from an Oneida Indian at the 1997 Milwaukee River Front Pow-Wow.
(Museum object #1999.40.1)

Acquired from an Oneida Indian at a Pow-Wow in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the bag shown at left represents the proud tradition of Native American military service. The maker used a traditional Native American form, the pouch, and embellished it with military and veterans� insignia from the Vietnam War.

The strength, bravery, pride, and wisdom required for successful military service are qualities traditionally revered in many Native American cultures. Today, there are approximately 190,000 Native American military veterans, representing the highest record of service per capita of any ethnic group in the United States. Many of these veterans were part of the 42,000 Native Americans who fought during the Vietnam era, ninety percent of whom were volunteers.

Of the many insignia that decorate this bag, the bronze medal on the far left is the Vietnam Service Medal, awarded to all members of the United States Armed Forces serving in Vietnam between July 3, 1965 and March 28, 1973. The medal�s design includes bamboo trees, adapted from Vietnam�s Presidential flag, and a partially concealed dragon that represents the sometimes clandestine nature of the Vietnamese conflict. Each color of the ribbon also has significance. The yellow background with vertical red stripes was inspired by the colors of the Republic of Vietnam�s flag, while the green border on either side represents the jungle of that country. Soldiers who received the medal were awarded a small bronze star to indicate each campaign they served in (three appear on this ribbon).

At the top center of the pouch is a ribbon from a Purple Heart, the oldest military decoration in the world still in use and the first American award made available to the common soldier. General George Washington initially established it as the Badge of Military Merit from his headquarters at Newburgh, New York, on August 7, 1782. The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy or who die of wounds received in action.

During the Vietnam era, soldiers� insignia began featuring subdued tones of olive green and black, as seen here in the �U.S. ARMY� tape and the U.S. flag patch. These colors were introduced to make soldiers less conspicuous to their enemies during combat. Appearing at the bottom center of the bag, the POW/MIA patch shows a solitary figure against the background of a Prisoner of War camp. The patch is a powerful reminder of the over 1,800 American personnel still unaccounted for from the Vietnam era. Appearing below the POW/MIA patch is an American Legion emblem. The American Legion, a veterans� organization, voiced great concern over the fate of POWs in Vietnam and continues to press for a full accounting of POW/MIAs today.

This pouch and other intriguing expressions of Wisconsin's varied culture can be seen at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in the exhibit Person to Person: Communicating Identity Through Wisconsin Folk Objects, on display through June 24, 2006.


Posted on November 10, 2005

This article appears in the following categories:

  • Wisconsin Indians
  • War
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