SGT Sophie Yazzie
Sophie Yazzie was born in Canyon de Chelly in August 1914. Yazzie was born to the Kin yaa’áanii clan and was originally named Awéé’ Yázhí.
Navajo tradition children are born in to their mother’s clan and Kin Ya’áanii is one of the four primary clans in the Navajo Nation. The clan is translated commonly as “Towering House.
Her father died when she was a baby and her mother remarried, to a man named Denet Bia, who became her stepfather. Yazzie eventually changed her name to Sophie Denet Bia.
Yazzie grew up herding sheep and tending to the family’s crops in Canyon De Chelly which she calls “the best place on the rez”. Back then, she said, life was simpler, “That was good enough with sheep and donkey,” Yazzie remembered. “Those (donkeys) are good animals. In the morning they’ll wait for you in the corral with the sheep. It’s nice to have sheep when you’re young. It’s nice to go wherever you want to go.” In the summer, they took sheep to the summer sheep camp down in the canyon where they also planted a field of corn, squash, peaches and alfalfa on 14 acres of farmland.
Yazzie graduated from Wingate Boarding School in 1934 with 12 girls and 22 boys.
She started work as a hostess at restaurants in Window Rock. A war broke out in Europe five years after her high school graduation, but it was not until Dec. 7, 1941, that the U.S. declared war on Japan after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Before the 1941 bombing, the Navajo Tribal Council passed a resolution on June 4, 1940 stating their loyalty to the United States. Yazzie continued working in the restaurant business as she and the rest of the tribe paid close attention to what Germany was doing on the other side of the world.
When the U.S. entered the war in December of 1941, Yazzie and her clan nephews -– a future Navajo Code Talker and one of the “Original 29,” Johnny Manuelito and Peter Manuelito if the Marines were looking for Navajo women. Johnny Manuelito told her the “Navajo” Marine Corps was not. Manuelito told her she should try the WAAC, a branch of the U.S. Army.
As the tribe continued pledging their allegiance to the U.S., like pledging to conserve food, and promising they’d fight alongside the country if they were needed, a Republican representative named Edith N. Rogers was on the other side of the country working on starting the country’s newest military branch: The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, which would eventually convert to the Women’s Army Corps.
On Jan. 22, 1943, Yazzie, then 28, traveled to Santa Fe and enlisted. After being sworn in she was shipped off to Daytona Beach, Florida, where she completed basic training. Since Yazzie could not stand the sight of blood, after basic training she became a cook and worked preparing meals and baking sweets, eventually stationed at Foster Air Force Base in Victoria, Texas. It was a training airfield during the war.
There, Tech 4 Sgt. Yazzie, making $78 a month, cooked for young aviation cadets who trained to become fighter pilots. The air base would eventually close in 1959.
After being honorably discharged, Yazzie met her soon-to-be husband, Jordan B. Yazzie, from Sweetwater, Arizona. Both worked at the Wingate Boarding School. She was a cook and he worked in the warehouse maintenance department. Yazzie worked there for 40 years, until she retired at the age of 70.
Instead of enjoying her time as a retiree, her daughter Kathleen said her mom went right back to work tending her field and growing crops in the Canyon de Chelly. “She walked up and down the canyon like a mountain goat, carrying groceries and fruits,” she recalled. “You name it, she grew it down in her garden in the canyon. Hey, mom, what else did you grow in the canyon?” “All kinds,” she answered during an interview in August 2019. “Alfalfa, peaches, squash, everything you can grow.” After doing that for a few years, she realized age was catching up with her. Eventually, she permanently moved in with her second oldest child in Tucson.
She often attended military and veterans’ celebrations up until 2017
While she missed home on the reservation, she enjoyed staying busy and doing crafts Tucson VA until her death. In 2013 and 2014 she participated in the Coalition for American Indian Veterans of Southern Arizona. In 2014 she flew with World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. where she was inducted into the ‘Women in Military Service for America’ at the Women’s Memorial Library.
In 2016 she was the special guest in the commander’s tent at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, and in 2015, 2016 and 2017 she was honored at the Iwo Jima Flag Raising parade in Sacaton, Arizona as the oldest World War II Veteran. She was the Grand Marshall in Sacaton and at the Navajo Nation Parade in 2017.
Her military history is recorded in the Veterans Heritage Project, a book which records the lives of soldiers, ensuring that their stories live on for future generations. Her medals and decorations include: Women’s Army Corps Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and Navajo Nation Service Medal.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez ordered flags be flown at half-staff to honor the late WWII veteran
“It is our honor to issue this proclamation to recognize the legacy of the late Sophie Yazzie, a matriarch for her family and a warrior for our Navajo people who served our country with great honor and dignity,” Nez was quoted in a statement.
Passed away January 25, 2020 at the age of 105 in Tucson, AZ surrounded by her family
Cathay Williams First African American female veteran. The only known and recorded female buffalo soldier.
Born in Missouri 1842 Died approx. 1893
Father was a freeman, however because her mother was a slave, she was born into slavery.
In 1861 when union troops occupied Jefferson City, Missouri she became their contraband and was forced to serve as a cook for the 8th Indiana Volunteer regiment at only 17 years old. She traveled with the unit as they march through Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia.
In 1866 she changed her name to William Cathay and joined the Army as a buffalo Soldier. Only her cousin and a friend who were also in the unit knew she was a woman. She marched with her unit from Missouri to Kansas to New Mexico. – over 500 miles. She contacted small pox which eventually led to her discovery as a woman and subsequent discharge. She did receive an honorable discharge.
Eventually her health began to decline and she could no longer work to support herself. At this point she decided to apply for disability.
Her pension request was denied, but most likely not because she was a woman. The doctor that examined her found nothing linking her current health to her service.
She applied for pension based off other women who had previously applied and were awarded pensions, Deborah Sampson, Anna Marie Lane and Mary Hayes McCauley (aka Molly Pitcher).
It isn’t until another 50 years before women would be able to enlist and serve in the military.
In July 2016 a bronze bust of Cathay was unveiled at FT Leavenworth Kansas to commemorate her service.