The warrior spirit
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  Photo courtesy U.S. Army/Lance Q. Zedric  
Honoring Native soldiers

American Indians of the Alamo Scouts

Part two

The Alamo Scouts were a top secret reconnaissance and raider unit that operated in the southwest Pacific during World War II and performed 108 missions without losing a single man, including two POW camp raids. They are recognized by the Army as a forerunner of the modern Special Forces. By some accounts as many as one-quarter of the enlisted graduates of the first Alamo Scouts training class were American Indian and served on operational teams, while the others returned to their units to utilize their special training.

Sgt. Byron L. Tsingine, a Navajo from the Deer Water People Clan from Coppermine, Ariz., and Ssg. Alvin J. Vilcan, a Chitimacha from Louisiana, graduated from the first training class but returned to their units despite being selected to operational teams. Tsingine served another year as a scout in the 158th and was wounded on Luzon in early 1945.

While with the 158th, Tsingine spoke with Navajo scouts from other units and passed on vital combat information, just as the more renowned Navajo code talkers of Marine Corps fame had done.

''Tsingine and other Indians were invaluable,'' said Earl Newman, of the Service Company of the 158th. ''They would speak Navajo and confuse the Japanese. A Navajo was placed in each company and Tsingine communicated using the Navajo language when he did reconnaissance work. The Japanese never knew what we were doing and we were always a step ahead of them.''

''I knew Tsingine well from our time in the 158th,'' said Thompson. ''He was an excellent fellow and a fine soldier. I voted for him to be on my team.''

Other Alamo Scout graduates also served as code talkers. Sgt. Guy F. Rondell, a Lakota from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, was a graduate of the second Alamo Scouts training class and returned to the 302nd Recon Squadron of the 1st Cavalry Division. He was one of only 11 Lakota Sioux B3 code talkers who served during the war. Six served in the Pacific and five in Europe.

''Pfc. Francis H. LaQuier of my team was a Chippewa from the White Earth Reservation in Early, Minnesota,'' added team leader Tom Rounsaville. ''He could draw a map that looked like an engineer production. His maps were so detailed and exact that they were part of our mission reports. He was an integral part of the team and was one of the finest soldiers I've ever served with.''

The unit assumed a central role in organizing large-scale guerrilla operations, establishing road watch stations, attempting to locate and capture or kill Japanese flag officers, and performing direct action missions, such as the Cabanatuan POW Camp liberation where they teamed with elements of the 6th Ranger Battalion and Filipino guerrilla units to liberate 513 POWs in a daring night attack. When not on missions, Alamo Scout teams provided bodyguard duty for Krueger and had specific instructions to kill the general if capture was imminent.

Near the end of the war, Alamo Scout teams were preparing for the invasion of Japan, where they were slated to conduct pre-invasion reconnaissance of Kyushu as part of Operation Downfall, but fortunately the war ended.

''Our perfect record wouldn't have lasted if we would have had to go to Japan,'' said Chief Zeke McConnell, a Cherokee from Bunch, Okla. who performed 13 operational missions in New Guinea and the Philippines as part of Littlefield Team. ''We would have lost a lot of men. It would have been near suicide.''

After the war, those scouts with enough service points went home, while others returned to their parent units or accompanied the 6th Army to Kyoto, Japan and joined the 6th Ranger Battalion for rations and quarters. Many former scouts remained in the military and saw service in Korea and Vietnam, and four went on to attain general officer rank. Until the mid 1980s, most of the Alamo Scout missions were classified top secret; the most recent was declassified in 1993.

The contributions of American Indians to the Alamo Scouts and their warrior spirit were further evidenced by the unit's distinctive insignia. In late 1944, a contest was held at the Alamo Scout Training Center on Leyte to design a unique shoulder patch. Krueger approved the patch for wear in theater, but it was not approved by the Institute of Heraldry and had to be purchased independently.

The final design featured a fully embroidered blue background with a red outer border and a wide white inner circle. Within the upper half of the circle appeared ''Alamo Scouts'' and within the bottom half, ''Sixth Army.'' The letters were fashioned in green, log-type script and symbolized the trailblazing nature of the unit. A depiction of the Alamo centered inside a white inner circle symbolized the bravery of the Alamo's original defenders, and an Indian head superimposed upon the Alamo represented silent reconnaissance.

Although the true extent of Native participation in the Alamo Scouts likely will never be known, their legacy of outstanding service, quiet professionalism and toughness is secure. Their contribution to victory in the Southwest Pacific and other theaters during World War II has forever cemented their place among America's elite warriors and set a high standard for future generations to meet.

''I'm proud to be a Native American and an Alamo Scout,'' said McConnell. ''But in the Alamo Scouts it didn't matter if you were Indian, Caucasian, Hispanic or Filipino. Our mission was to accomplish the mission, and we all did our part just like every other soldier. The men were tough, the training was tough, and the missions were tough. But I think our record speaks for itself.''

A record of 108 missions with zero casualties speak volumes.

Identified American Indians who served in the Alamo Scouts:

* Anthony J. Ortiz

* Zeke McConnell

* Virgil F. Howell

* Robert T. Schermerhorn

* Joseph A. Johnson

* Joshua Sunn

* Theodore T. Largo

* Francis H. LaQuier

* David M. Milda

* Byron L. Tsingine

* Alvin J. Vilcan

Lance Q. Zedric is the author of ''Silent Warriors of World War II: The Alamo Scouts Behind Japanese Lines.'' He is a lecturer on military affairs and special operations forces, historian for the Alamo Scouts Association and co-founder of


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