CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan --
Motivated by the educational opportunities the Marine Corps had to offer, Percival Lefthand left his close-knit family in southern Montana to take a shot at earning the title of United States Marine.
“I did two years of community college,” said Lefthand. “I didn’t really know where I wanted to go after that, but I always wanted to join the military.”
After finishing recruit training, Lefthand returned to his home at the Crow Reservation and spent time with the family he hadn’t seen in three months.
“When I went home after boot camp, there was a ‘Crow Fair,’” said Lefthand. “It’s where we all come together once a year to set up camp and thousands of people show up.”
Even though Lefthand was not able to attend the Crow Fair, what happened at the event left him in awe.
“They announced my name to let everyone know that I joined the Marine Corps.” said Lefthand. “When any tribal member joins the military, we look at it as a high honor.”
Lefthand, a distribution management specialist with the distribution management office, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Camp Smedley D. Butler, is of the Crow Tribe of Montana.
According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, Native Americans have served with the U.S. military for over 200 years spanning from the War of 1812 to World War I to the modern day. Today, Native Americans have the highest proportion of individuals serving than any other ethnic group.
“I am the first Marine in my family,” said Lefthand. “Most of my family was in the Army.”
Lefthand’s family has a history of military service. One of his relatives served in the Vietnam War and another served in World War II. More than 42,000 Native Americans served during the Vietnam War and more than 44,000 served during World War II.
Prior to enlisting, Lefthand, for the most part, enjoyed his time on the reservation. He especially enjoyed spending time learning more about his heritage.
“I used to go with my grandparents to a place where all the elders would meet and eat. I would sit there with them and listen to them tell stories,” he said.
Today, he remains in touch with his heritage through his tribe’s flag, a single eagle feather, a bag of sweetgrass, and a bag of bear root. He uses the bags of bear root and sweet grass for prayers in tandem with the eagle feather to give him protection for his days going forward.
November is Native American Heritage Month and serves to honor all Native American service members who are currently serving or who have served.