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“You’re asking about the worst day of my life.” (Video Interview, 19:35)

   Lewis Sawaquat
Image of Lewis Sawaquat
Lewis Sawaquat [2006]
War: Korean War, 1950-1953
Branch: Army
Unit: 987th Field Artillery Battalion, II Republic of Korea (ROK) Corps
Service Location: Korea; Fort Bliss, Texas; White Sands, New Mexico
Rank: Staff Sergeant
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Lewis Sawaquat was 18 years old when he enlisted, in the last year of the Korean War. He served with an artillery battalion in Korea, stationed 25 to 30 miles behind the front lines. On arrival in country, he was rattled by the sound of gunfire but soon got used to it, as he did the rough-and-tumble men in his company. Told stories of the horrors that awaited him if he got captured, he soon found there was little chance for that, especially as the war ground toward a stalemate. He did find that Koreans bonded with him as an American Indian; they claimed that his ancestors crossed the land bridge from Asia to North America.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview  
Download: video (33 min.)
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»Willing to Serve: American Indians
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Started out at Fort Custer in his native Michigan, sent for basic training at Ft. Still, Oklahoma; was amazed at the array of food; didn't enjoy the constant exercising; landed in Pusan, traveled north toward Seoul; assigned to the 9987 Field Artillery; located 25-30 miles behind the front lines; in support of the infantry, the armored, and the small artillery; occasionally sustained a hit; did suffer one casualty, their survey officer was killed. (04:16) Cynical about medals because of an incident involving a friend; they had a 50 caliber machine gun assigned to them; would hurriedly try to load it in time to hit a regularly passing plane; one time, his friend fell jumping over a sandbag, cut his hand--and got a Purple Heart for his wound. (01:20) On arrival, was warned about getting captured; entertained themselves with beer and cards; liquor supply was unlimited; did learn how to play chess; saw Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, who had been honeymooning in Japan. (02:36)
Did experience some racism, but saw blacks as more frequent victims of it; Koreans saw him as one of them; the American Indians had crossed the land bridge from Asia; they promised they would come to America and free the Indians to return to Asia. (02:13) Hearing the gun fire as he got closer to the front lines, thinking “this is not for me;” joined a so-called elite unit; they were actually ruffians, dirty and smelly, speaking a crude pidgin Korean-English, armed with hand grenades and knives; learned to speak their language to get along. (02:36) Offered duty in Vietnam in the mid-50s, where U.S. military were stationed dressed in civilian clothes as advisors; turned down the offer and left the military in January 1956; used the GI Bill, which was the main reason he joined; had no support from his tribe, the Ottawas, which at that time were no longer officially considered a tribe. (02:01)
Understands the difficulty of transition from war to civilian life, though he had no problems himself; appreciates how military service broadened his landscape. (01:13)  
  
 
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  October 26, 2011
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