SUB: Thomas Oxendine
INT: Lew Barton
November 6, 1980
B: This is November 6, 1974. I'm Lew Barton recording forAUniversity of Florida's
History Department, American Indian Oral History program. This morning we are
favored to be in WashingtonjD.C.,in the office of the Department of the Interior.
And with me and kindly consenting to give us an interview is Mr. Thomas Oxendine1
who is head of the Department of Information, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and of
course/the Bureau of Indian Affairs is a part of the United Stated Department of
the Interior. Is that right Mr. Oxendine?
0: That is correct, it's a real pleasure Lew/to .
B: Oh you are so gracious to give us this interview, and IOve been looking forward
to it, and we want you to tell us all about yourself in your own sort of way or
any kinds of comments that you would like to make in your own way. And I'll just
sit here and mostly listen because)you know)you and I are both pretty good
0: Well it's a real pleasure as I said. Probably a little background that I might
add is, first I am a Lumbee Indian from North Carolina. I was born in December
23, 1922. Son of Thomas H. and Georgia R. Mayner. My father was a schoolteacher,
and was born on a, in a small Indian village about two miles west of Pembroke,
which is kind of the center of Lumbee affairs in that partlas you are well aware.
I first started to school in, a little small school, two-room school, in was I
which is about in the area where I was born in which I started to school when I
was five. Having, as I said, been the oldest of eight children, I could read and
write before I started to school. And since the teacher had three grades in the
one room, I could read the second-grade books so it wasn't very long in that first
UL 31A 2
0: year that I got elevated to the second grade, and consequently when I was. .
B: rho& always considered you to be a brain.
0: No, I wouldn't say that, but I just got an early start, and wound up at six years
of age in the third grade, and so we only had eleven grades in school in those
days, but I finally graduated at the age of fifteen from Cherokee Indian Normal
High School 4t'over there in Pembroke. From there I continued my schooling at
Cherokee Normal College up until the, as that school progressed I was in my fourth
year when the World War II came along and I immediately enlisted into the favy.
But while at Pembroke, as you are quite familiar Lew, you and I attended many
courses together, and I remember well .
B: Very enjoyable ones.
0: And I remember well in our days in journalism, although you pursued that, and I
went elsewhere, but the last twelve years though I have moved back into public
affairs, the last eight yearsIof course in the (avy. But kind of just sketching
out where I've been since we were together. I of course in 1942, as World War,
well let me back up a little I did the normal kind of pursuits at Pembroke.
Going through bachelor, seeking a Bachelor of Arts in the liberal arts side of
teaching, and that's what I was pursuing. I wasjparticipated in all the athletic
programs at Pembroke .
B: Right, you've always been a great athlete.
0: WelllI was fortunate enough to make the teams in each of the sports, and I par-
ticipated in all of those normally. I participated in the class activities that
were normally done. And I know that I enjoyed very much, and I have very fond
memories, of my days at Pembroke. But the next event, as I said in 1942, the war
broke out, and I had prior taken flight training at Pembroke in an academic
course that was run through civilian pilot training course at Lumberton, which
was about eight miles away, and I obtained a private license under a program
there. And then of course the war came along, and I spent t World War II, well.
UL 31A 3
0: let me back up again. I entered into the /avy, or sought to enlist in the lavy
and found that the davy only accepted caucasians, and I had a little problem there
for a while until I got a ruling out of Washington, and of course I then received
extensive press coverage as the first American Indian to go through Javy flight
B: That's great. How about the first American Indian to enter the 4avy?
0: Well I don't know about that part, but I was the first to enter/avy flight
training, and I was commissioned an Ynsign at the completion of that course in
December of 1942. I enlisted in the lavy in January and after clearing the
hurdles that were theremainly because of the policies of government dealing with
segregation, when that was cleared)why)I was permitted to go through, and had a
very enjoyable time going through, and I had a, it's just something in flying)
Lew, if you know .
B: You're a great flyer Tom.
0: Well~ I don't know. It's something that I, not many people get an opportunity
to do something that they feel that they do well. But this is something that
came very easily to me and I had no particular prior interest in flying. I never
built model airplanes or did any of those sort of things, aea but I got an oppor-
tunityjas you know it was a volunteer thing and they took ten students, they took
ten Indian students. This program was kind of designed tojas a quote)"Pilot
program' to teach ten Indians, see how well they'd do in flying. And I don't
know how many people signed up, but they took them based on an academic back-
groundIetc., and I was one of the people, but right from the .
B: You're being modest) 1qrA,
0; No, but right from the beginning it's something I could do extremely well, and I
never got a downcheck. I, you know, entered into thelavy and went through
without any problem whatsoever. I never had any of the normal kind of difficulties
that I find out later in, as I taught you know people to fly, there's just certain
UL 31A 4
0: people who have a knack of doing, you know and like I said I had no problem. But
I then spent all of World War II of course in varying capacities in the /avy. I
left the $avy in 1947, returned to Pembroke to complete my education. In 1948 I
received my i from Pembroke. And then the fall of 1948 I matriculated
to University of Southern California where I majored in physical education, re-
turned to Pembroke in 1950, and reentered to get my teaching credentials, and
then the, that was I'm sorry) in the fall of 1949. And then in 1959 I joined the
staff at Pembroke High School as the director of athletics, and then was recalled
to Korea in April of 1951, and remained in the 4avy as a pilot, the last eight
years in public affairs. And retired from the favy in 1970, at which time I
joined the Bureau of Indian Affairs in my present capacity as the public affairs
officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs here in Washington. I have had an
exteme variety of assignments, Lew. I would like .
B: I bet it's been interesting.
0: Wellit certainly has. I kind of don't know where to hit at any particular areas,
but maybe we might talk a little about the role as an Indian in these which is a
little bit different than most. And there are some kind of things that are per-
tinent ih that area. Going back a little bit, as I said, I entered in Charlotte,
North Carolina at the recruiting there, and they had, as I said to get a ruling.
Because the rules for being an officer in the lavy were that you had to be a
caucasipn. Well)that leaves us out you know. So I still think it was probably
the rules of the black-white thing which the Indians are kind of caught in the
middle, right. So when that was clarified, I then went down to Atlanta, went
through elimination flight training. And the first thing Mr. Ted Mann, who
headed the Duke University publicity department was the public information
officer there at Atlanta. And of course he found out he had an Indian in and
he did the normal kinds of things of getting a lot of publicity. And as you can
remember I received tremendous, all through no particular discrimination, not any
UL 31A 5
0: that I could see. It was exactly the reverse.
B: Maybe it acted, maybe it worked as an asset rather than a liability.
0: Wellyou know one of the things though that was kind of confusing, I of course had
read the same books that everyone else does that distorts Indian history completely/
but in entering the number of people that you met, why/they kind of had the
romantic side of Indians and pointed out that you certainly must be very proud
of your Indian ancestry)etc. But then they would relate real quickly to Indian
leaders which I only had varying degrees of knowledge. Naturally Jim Thorpe,
big hero among non-Indians.
B: Wellryou know about him.
0: Well of course, he's a great, you know I'm a geat admirerOP of him. Crazy
Horse, Tecums~h, all of the great Indian leaders were kind of brought up to me
as people that I should kind of relate to. But I had problems with that Lew,
because they were not necessarily, other than known people. The people that I
admired were those Lumbees who I could identify with as Indians that were not
well known, such aslyou knowlReverdnd L. W. Moore, who helped get our schools
started, Mr. O. R. Sampson. I take great pride in the Lumbee Indians who helped
get that thing turned around in 1887 because I know now well the history that
dealt in, in the policies of government that caused a lot of the changes in 1835,
and we have a pretty sad history between 1835 and 1887 as you are quite well
aware. And it was a case of being caught between of course the federal govern-
ment whose policies were only as a trustee to Indians, and the states who took
the point that Indians are the responsibility of the federal government. So,
you know, we were caught in the middle of that. And it must have taxed well.
The Lumbee Indian leadership at that time, and I really am very proud of their
persistence, and really having the view that education is the way, and of finally,
and I'm sure they had many, many problems in getting started, but it's now
beginning to pay off.
UL 31A 6
B: Right, exactly.
0: As I said I hope that something can be done to recognize the deep debt of
gratitude that Lumbee Indians owe to those people who were able to kind of turn
that bad situation around during that period. But their struggles must have
B: Oh)yes. We had, they sort of pulled us up by ouFboot straps. We had nothing
D-hb sa-Prk W<.t* *
O: I'm sure you have this recorded in other areas, but for those who are not quite
familiar with it, as I understanait, of course we were CJo_ _,-__ _, well
identified up through the early part of 1900, and then about 1911 or so we were
made at least Cherokee Indians of RobeKSson County. And that's how I entered
the )avy, as a Cherokee Indian of Robertson County. The laws pertaining to
Indians mainly, partly of it is was due to segregation.
0: Oh)yeah of course. My birth certificate lists my mother and father as Indians.
The law, I was only permitted)say/to go to Indian schools, There were laws
against intermarriage between.":?. I was not eligible to go to a black or
white school, I could only go to the Indian schools. But you know I look back
on that,-at the time I don't think I really had any great interest in going to
any of the other schools anyway, 'cause I was completely happy in my own environ-
ment. We had our own schools, our own churches. And I guess maybe that per-
sonally I accepted that well. And I think ones real ability in life to kind of
mesh is that ability to adjust to ever what you have to adjust to anyway. But
I remember my father told me once that, you knowJyou're going to, in life when
you leave and especially from around Pembroke where we did not have discrimination
certainly in Pembroke, not openly anyway.
B: That was the Lumbee town, that was our town.
O: That's right, that was our town. Uncle Sonny was the mayor, and we had our
UL 31A 7
0: own chief of police, city council and so forth, but there was none there. It's
only when you kind of tended to leave your own area. As long as you kind of
stayed in your place, you know, no problem. But he told me that you're going
to run into problems with certain people because, just because you're an Indian.
But that's kind of based on the fact that they did not like maybe the Indians
they had met or for some reason they've come up with that. But this system of
government, and they won't want anything to do with you just because you're an
Indian, nothing else. I mean/it's not you per se, it's just you're an Indian
and they would not care to have anything to do with you. But this system of
government also permits him that right to exclude, based on any particular
reason he might want. But you can also do the same thing. You can exclude
those people that you don't, it's just the way that it has, and I kind of never
forgot that. So I always kind of took the position that people who don't want,
would not want to have anything to do with me, you know, they have that right.
But it's too bad that their communication is such that they have come up with
those kinds of views. I have had a very interesting life. I first, as I said
went through, getting back a little bit into a time frame in 1942, I went down
to Atlanta. Colonel Earl Lowery, who at that time over at the hospital there
was very helpful, also a Lumbee, who had gone to school with my Uncle Clifton, one
of the early people who received a master's degree. And I'm sure you have him
on tape, if not you ought to. But anyway ColX Lowery was very helpful in my
adjustment in Atlanta. I then moved down to Jacksonville, Florida where I com-
pleted the remaining time to get my commission. I entered into the javy operation-
al part in what was called VOVCS, scout observation training, flying, and joined
the USS Mobile where I spent the next two years in the Pacific going through
some thirty-plus fleet engagements in that capacity as a scout observation pilot,
submarine search, and went through first battle was at Wake, and I participated
in the bombing of that/ 1 4, z neutralizing a lot of these areas up
UL 31A 8
O: through the second battle of the Phillipines, where I returned and then went
into fighters. At the later part qualifying in the ,te s F6F Hellcat. I then
B: That was one of the great machines .
O: That was a fine, fine airplane. And then joined, started flying a corsair, the
Yavy's F4U Vorsair, became a test pilot in Faie; in Detroit, Michigan,
returned to the sea planes for a two-year assignment on the USS St. Paul, which
took into the area as the, and I was head of the St. Paul aviation detachment.
We served over in China. Very interesting tour and the follow-up at the end of
World War II. We were anchored in the Hwangppoo River in Shanghai for six
months. So I got to return to a little of my athletic wishes in that I coached
the St. Paul baseball team which won that China district over there.
B: Oh, that's great.
O: And so I really, I really had a lot of fond memories about that particular
thing. But at that time the Chinese, the Commumists would not move into that
area because the U.S. was in there at that time, but by then, that's when I
X left in November of 1947 and returned to Pembroke to enter that, enter school
as I've mentioned before. I'd like to just kind of mention a little bitmy
one of the real, few of the real highlights I consider in my life. One was my
year as a coach there at Pembroke, under Mr. Elmer Lowery who sought in my
senior year. av49itPwyVx there as I was getting my teaching credentials, asked
me if I would be willing to do that. And course that's exactly what I wanted
to do. And I can remember well moving in after Pembroke had had some problems
in winning a championship over in Magnolia, and Prospect, and Fairmont had kind
of dominated that league for quite some time. But I was fortunate enough to have
Union Chapel, one of the other high schools, merge with Pembroke the year that
I took over. So I herded a field of pretty good ballplayers, and I was the coach
of both the girl's and boys basketball teams, and went through and had a great
amount of luck in that capacity in that we won, had a season each, the boys and
UL 31A 9
0: girls having nineteen wins and one loss, and thenwent through and won the
county championship. And the Monday after that, Lew, the Monday after that
high school tournament there at Pembroke, after we'd won on a Saturday night,
on Monday night there was a package of information to return to the avy for
Korea. So I discussed it, took a leave of absence .
B: You were of courseion javal 7eserveright?
0: I was in the baval reserve, as all people who had been in World War II, there
a commitment for a>) to that, and of course that was not an option, it was just
that if you had gone through you were, actually when you leave the avy you
released-VP inactive duty. You were still eligible for those assignments. But
I went back in and immediately went into jets. And that was real rewarding
experience, and I went through the normal, oh)the USS Midway had three tours
over in Europe. In the Mediterranean I served as the Administrative and
Operations officer for Command Airgroup Six, later becoming the executive officer
of Fighter Squadron 21 on the USS Midway. I then was reassigned in 1951 to,
as the officer in charge of the lavy's gunnery Pnit at Pensacola, Florida,
where we trained students in basic gunnery at Pensacola there. In 19531-'m
sorry let me back up, in 1953 I went to Pensacola instead of 1951, and served
that tour as CO of the gunnery unit. I then, 1956, I met a navy nurse there
at Baron Field, and after a short period of time we were married, and I got
orders in July of 1956 and moved on to a new assignment as the officer in
charge of the 4avy's fleet jet training squadron unit at Moffit Field, Calif-
ornia. This was a very interesting assignment in that we taught all of the
fleet pilots to sharpen up on their ability to fly in all weather, all weather
squadrons, these were the jet pilot who operated on the carriers, had to renew
their instrument ratings etc. So I remained in that until that squadron was
absorbed in VF124 and then I moved into the b9avy's, became a combat flight
instructor, and the executive officer of 124 which is a big replacement airgroup
squadron there at Moffit. I continued to participate in the athletic squadron,
UL 31A 10
0: athletics up through as exec on the basketball team. I was on the g baseball
team etc., continued to do that, and as I had in all the other squadrons. 1960
I left as executive officer 124 ac moved to Pensacola as the commanding officer
of the Pavy's largest basic training squadron, training squadron two at North
Whiting Field at Pensacola. That squadron had 198 airplanes, and had 165
pure flight instructors. I had an administrative staff of about seventeen
officers, 800 enlisted personnel, and we trained at any one time 400-600 'avy
flight students through transition, precision, acrobatics, basic instruments
and night flying. So that was a tremendous operation that we had going there.
in fact the students for the squadron operated from six o'clock in the morning
until eleven at night, so we had a kind of around-the-clock you know with
night flying and that kind of operation. But it was one of the real highlights,
you know commanding a squadron of that capacity. Now at that point in 1960 to
1962 I had that, in October 1962 I then was offered an assignment as the Deputy
Fleet Information Officer on the staff of Commander-in-Chief of Pacific Fleet.
Now this gets us back to the public information .
B: Whythis then was another phase of your interest of your life, journalism.
0: That's right. Well you know I had been sports editor when you were the editor
of the college newspaper there. I was on your staff as the sports editor, and
even though I had not followed it, pursued it a great deal after that, why, I
did get a chance to return, and of course accepted that. And I moved to Hawaii
on the staff and served for three years in that capacity as the Deputy Fleet
Information Officer for Pacific Fleet which actually put out all the releases
for Pacific Fleet and the, you know all over the Pacific. The fleet hometown
news and the news releases, the interviews, the normal guest tours etc. They
are very interesting assignments, not a great deal involved in Indian Affairs!
but a very rewarding assignment. ~ in 1965 when the 4avy pflt was involved
with the, became involved with the war in Vietnam, I was detached to, eod the
UL 31A 11
O: initial information program for the/avy's involvement in the Gulf of Tonkin.
So I was sent out from Hawaii to head that on the USS Independence on the
staff of the aQ2l, 9ommander)so I operated there during the later part of
1965 to set up that program, and then was assigned to the Office of Information
in Washington on the Secretary of the Xavy's staff as the, in the office of
plans. I directed the Office of Aviation Plans, that dealing with building
of aircraft, the roll-outs, the programs involved around anything doing with
aviation, carriers and so forth. I headed that within the information office
of the secretary. I then C4i direct the entire office later on. And then in
1968 I was assigned to head the public Affairs Office for thelaval gir
systems command This was an operation that dealt with all weapon systems
that deal with aircraft etc. And then I was, had that for two years here in
Washington, had remained since 19-, or moved to Washington from Hawaii in 1965,
and so in 1970 as I'm leaving the /avy)I was asked to join the Bureau in this
present capacity. So I would if you would like)we can discuss that or what
have you, but of course I've been here during the reorganization, the implementation
of the self-determination policy, I was here. And it's kind of strange)but
two years ago today)in this office)this was building was completely with 600
people who took it over. So two years ago today this office was .
B: You really have something to report on, i~ g____
O: Oh)you're absolutely right, but I was in and out as the laison between the
Indians who had this building and the government, both the White House, right
the 5lA 1972, November 2-8 and today is the sixth and of course this is
one of I remember that very well. I also, in the capacity, handled the press
at Wounded Knee, South Dakota during that takeover. The large number of news-
m'n who, but that's part of the job that I presently have now. So I am familiar
basically with all of those kind of things. I do think I understand the Lumbee
history fairly well in its relationship to the government. And I think that
if others understood it as well then they can accept ...
UL 31A 12
B: You'd be very happy about it wouldn't you?
0: Well no, I don't know that they may be happy. But the thing is I believe, and I'm
sure you do, that truth is good no matter it is. Truth has got to be good, and
it's better that we know and seek truth because you make too many mistakes when
you think you're dealing with truth and you really aren't.
B: I wanted, you didn't have, you didn't seem to have this problem that so many of
our people have, which is related to exactly what you are saying. And that is
an inferiority complex, w you knowour people have been told that they are
nobody and nothing so long that they have begun to believe this. And you can't
say that about anybody really, can you?
0: Well} you know, again, I kind of was fortunate)Lew. if it hadn't been in the
sequence that it was, you know I would not know. Butyou know as I said, I was
at Pembroke, I was going through pursuing a teaching field. I'm not sure that
that would've been exactly something I would have aspired to at that particular
time or not. But the big keyjI think, and I've certainly seen it after I've
come into the bureau, is that a lot of people don't have that opportunity to
bridge that gap into the right set of circumstances, and I think I did.
B: Somehow you, you were able to rise above it, alt you know.er-a,
0: Well, I think, I think in going from an Indian culture into the main stream. We
have/for instance/in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I last year, I was out on
the Navaho reservation having lunch with retired Chief Justice Lincoln of the
Navaho Supreme Court, and we were discussing Indian affairs. He's now retired,
he lives back in his hogam under the most primitive type of/I but you know, he's
had the affluence and he's gone back to this. But we were discussing the Bureau's
Employment Assistance Program. This is a relocation program where Indians sign
up for various job training, and then they, the bureau, has a program where we
train the Indians to in a vocation, and then assist them in job placement. Now
we were discussing that program, and he said to me, "Mr. Oxendine" he said, "it's
UL 31A 13
0: not the eight hours at work in Los Angelas, for instance as a welder, that
defeats our Navahos, that's not what defeats them." He says "It's the other
sixteen hours you're not training them for." And that's exactly what maybe
you're talking about here, and how do you bridge that and not have it. Well
moving out of Pembroke, and I'd never been to school you know/with a black or
white until r went in the Jfavy flight training. So you don't really know how
well you are going to do or not, but you certainly wouldn't be in there unless
you had certain. ..
B: Certain ,^s c 4 }c Coc_ 4~.?. .
0: Well the thing is, you find pretty early that you dictate a lot of your future
by your own initiative and motivation, and desires and what have you. And I
learned I think fairly early that you can take average intelligence and do any-
thing with it you want if you're willing to, you know,put the time and effort
to it. But I went into the, avy, even as I said with my background of never
having been to school with a black or white, into an all caucasian background.
But a couple of things is, the mesh was pretty good for me in that everyone got
up at the same time when re^e+ry was sounded. Everyone went through a process
of sameness. You went to the mess hall for meals, you took the calisthenics, you
went to ground school, you went to the flight line for your flight training. You
went through, you went down and signed up for insurance, you took physical.
Pretty soon you can start seeing some of the validity in this total program,
whereas you would not have had in a program whereas, say/for instance you're only
taking welding or you're only taking carpentry. These other things are not being
taken care of. But I guarantee you your time is taken care of in the Vavy flight
training program from the time you get up in the morning until you complete you
knowlyour class studies into the night in preparation of the next days events.
And as I said it was really compact during World War II because you only had every
eighth day off, and consequently there isn't much free time, and therefore it's
UL 31A 14
0: totally programS, and doesn't make any difference you were an Indian or whether
you know, in there were students from Harvard, Princeton, you know the most
affluent part of our country .
B: What really makes the difference is whether or not you can perform, right?
0: Well, I guess that's exactly it. You know you have to carry your own, your own
level but I think probably my weakest area had to be mathematics. But again I'm
fortunate in the fact that my roommate, Lew, had majored in mathematics at the
University of Illinois, and as I saidI had a private pilots license, and I had
no problems with flying and aerodynamics and what have you. So we matched pretty
well because he had problems in that area, and I had really put it out, because
we went through a half-inch book of calculus in what, about three weeks/ you know.
And I had only gone through, you know Dr. Brown's college math courseyyou know,
and that wasn't a great background. But at least it was a basis. But the
mathematics part really was my only problem academically, but as I said it took
extra time, but I also had a roommate who was very helpful.
End Side 1A
B: might be of interest to others. There are so many things about you we need to
say and we don't want to miss them.
0: Be happy to 4ew. I guess maybe the best way to do this would be to as the personal
education experience awards, etc. I had mentioned before some of that earlier in
the tape but I'll condense it somewhat. As I said I was born in December/1922,
December 23, 1922. I'm presently married to the former Elizabeth Moody who is
from Tampa, Florida. We have three sons, Thomas, now age seventeen who is a
senior at Washington Lee High School. He currently is active on the varsity
football, varsity wrestling, and varsity baseball teams. He's active in class-
work and hopes to be entering the university next year to study law, or pre-law, 'r',
I have a son)Bill, who is also active in three sports in Swanson Junior High
School here in Arlington, We live at 1141 N. Harrison in Arlington, and have
purchased a home there and have resided in that locale since 1965. Youngest son
Robert is in Inior igh in the eighth grade, also very active in athletics, so
we are blessed with three fine adusted youngsters who make honor rolls, and are
active year-round in three sports. As I said before/I'm a memlir of the Lumbee
tribe of North Carolina, member of the National Congress of American Indians, the
National Aviation Club here in Washington, and of courseathe National Press Club,
and I was one of the earliest people, Indians, of course admitted to the National
Press Club here in Washington.
B: Weren't you an officer in that at one time?
0: Not in the National Press Club, no. My education kind of basically outlinedl--
I graduated from Cherokee Indian Normal High School in Pembroke in 1934. I
entered Pembroke State, I'm sorry I graduated from the Cherokee Normal High
School in Pembroke in 1938, I entered in 434, graduated in 138. I then
entered Cherokee Indian Normal College which later changed to Pembroke State
College for Indians, now Pembroke State University, in 1938,and continued until
I left in 1942 as a, after the first semester as I've already GatllneC tc enter
UL 31A 16
0: into/avy flight training. I returned to Pembroke at the end of World War
II, and redceed my bachelor's degree in social science with a minor in
physical education. I then entered the University of Southern California where
I completed, In 1949 and 1950, and completed undergraduate physical education
courses to pursue a coaching athletic career. I returned to Pembroke State
College in 1950 to complete courses required for teaching certification which
I had not included in my earlier academic work. And I'm also a graduate of
the Armed Forces Information School in Fort Benjamin Harrison, and I did that
in 1966. And that's where the public affairs, public information officers in
the military attain their journalism or courses designed for public information.
My basic experiences kind of center around outside of school. I was in the
/avy from 1942 to 1947. I was commissioned as a faval aviator in December of
1942. I participated during World War II in the Pacific On the USS Mobile, as
Bu^ rs- t/ ?
I've stated before some 4oaf fleet engagements. I returned after to
as a member of the faculty at Pembroke High School from 1950 until April forty-
one as the athletic director and coach of all of the athletic programs there,
both boys and girls in the physical education capacity. I was a pavy jet
fighter pilot in various squadrons from 1951 to 1960 including positions as the
commanding officer of training squadron two in the Naval Basic Training Command
from January 1960 to November/1962 whenI was assigned as the Deputy Fleet
Information Officer on the staff of the commander-in-Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet
I I I
from Nove iaber, a62 to July of W65, at which time I was assigned as the Public
affairss officerr for Commander Task Force 77, which was in .the Gulf of Tonkin,
which was the initial part of the war in Vietnam. 4 in those duties they were
fairly much the same as any other public affairs assignment in that you work with
newsman covering the war either on the USS Independence and also participating in
the, in Saigon in the release of information to newsman regarding the military
operations in Vietnam of the javy. From there I returned to the continental
United States as the aviation plans Officer, later director of that plans division
UL 31A 17
O: in the Office of Xnformation, secretaryy of the avy's Gffice of Znfomation in
the Pentagon. And I was in that assignment from 1965 to 1968, at which time I
became Public affairss Officer or head of that office for the Naval Air Systems
Command here in Washington until I left the/avy in 1970 6t the present assignment
as Public Information Officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs of where I have
been since. On the bio you mentioned the awards, well .
B: Right, and the medals. And the combat experience.
O: Well, in 1967, you were part of that Lew, you know/I'm very honored to have
been awarded Pembroke State University's first Annual Distinguished Alumnus
Award. Many have since 1967, they have made a yearly award of that particular
honor. I was designated as the, as a Xavy publicc information specialist as a
result of having attending the,bcoming graduated, when I graduated from the
Armed Forces Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison. Of course as long as
you are the only one, of course you can be the first in a lot of things. So that
of course was the first Indian to do a lot of things in the avy. I had mentioned
that I received extensive flight coverage, or press coverage as a result of
going through /avy flight training as the first American Indian. I used to get,
I remember getting as many as 350 letters a weeksyou know just normally .
B: You needed a fan club/ chuckle,
O: Just normally you know of people just interested in how I was doing, and some of
my various views on things. And then of course in 1972 when I've been listed
since in Who's Who in Government here in Washington, and of course that is a
matter, all of those are a matter of record. I was related to World War II, I
received many medals and honors of which one of them was Distinguished Flying
Cross, and I'm very, very proud of, and I know that you have written about that
assignment. But again for the record it was awarded for, as I said I was in a
scout observation assignment at that time in which it was a single engine float
plane that landed near a ship and was hoisted aboardlyou knowlunder
what have you l S_ ____ Well this is also used in rescue work
UL 31A 18
O: during the war. Well while on assignment in 1944, June, right off the coast
of Yapp, a TBM crew had been shot down, and as you may or may not know normally
the rescue operations were done by submarine. What would happen is when the
fleet went into an island, or one of the operations we had a rescue submarine.
And what would happen is that submarine would be off the coast underwater, and
then recover pilots who then went in and what have you by periscope and take
them out to where they could be then the submarine could surface and take them
aboard or could transfer them .
B: That was Sh~-CS O0 -!- D-' _
O: Oh yes, very, very smart. But in this particular case, off Yapp, this pilot
was shot down right near the beach, and therefore the submarine could not
stay submerged and go in there and recover him. So it was decided to try to
make a rescue of this crew by sending me in to see if I could get it. And I
remember very well landing, or attempting to land, near this beach. It was in
kind of a half-moon there at Yapp.
B: What were you flying?
O: An OS2U Kingfisher built by v single engine, and I
landed and I had to zig-zag on the landing, but there was favy fighters at that
time stafing the beach, and strafing the gun emplacements which were firing at
my plane. And they were hitting, and even splashing water with shellslyou know,
but the thing is you are involved in an operation, you have a chance to rescue
a crew of people, and so that means a lot you know because if you don't they're
going to be captured. So it was as I saidright near the beach and I was caught
kind of in cross-fire, but I went in and was able to get them onto the wing of
the plane and zig-zag out to the area where I could take them on board, tk in the
back seat, and then take off and fly back to the ship.
B: You taxied out with them on the wing of the plane?
O: Taxied out then, zig-zagging at high speed .
UL 31A 19
B: They were hanging on for dear life.
0: Right, that's right. And then until I could get them out to where I can safely
take off outside of the range of gunfire. Well of course that was a Distinguished
Flying Cross I was awarded for that having been observed by their Group
commander who had watched it. But you know as I went in there, and I can remember
this very well, that when you know, they, when they were trying to neutralize
the gunfire on the beach, and when I went into, it took some time to spot them
in the water you know, that's not an easy thing to do. First of all they're
shooting at you, you know, while you're doing this,but then you go in to make
this landing, and as you, you know you have to slow down to speeds and so forth,
and then they decided to call it off. But I really was determined at that point
to do what I could even to take some hits in the plane, because you know lives
were at stake, although they figured that you knowlthat it was a little bit
too dangerous to do. But I elected to kind of overrule that and went ahead and,
as if you know, and they were telling me not to lyou knyou know/ but went ahead
and landed anyway, and brought them out. But, anyway, that was the Distinguished
Flying Cross. I brought back planes from' that were, picked
up the bullet holes etc. Participated in a lot of very interesting kind of
things. I was shot down in a cross fire at __ with an
OS2U, but fortunately was able to get back to the ship. I know that came back
and I was kind of surprised to find that within six inches of my head you know
a bullet had sailed through armor piercing had gone all the way through the
airplane. So that was about the closest I think I came to not being around
any longer. But again/Lew, you know we were talking earlier )AVW Rfa* I think
I have been extremely fortunate, lucky in having had the opportunity to have
taken advantage of a lot of the things that have happened to me. I was in the
Pentagon, I was asked to head another particular thing that I remember well and
will always cherish will be the press officer for an official state visit to
Australia and New Zealand. This is one where you meet all the heads of'the
UL 31A 20
O: various provinces and what have you in Australia. We were in there for a month.
Visited all over Australia in a very state official kind of capacity that f
normally is reserved to those who travel with the president. Because you meet,
you're into the full gamut of the real exposure of that diplomatic core. I
had never really had an opportunity to participate in it. Have participated
in Medal of Honor presentations in the White House in my capacity asae public
Information and out of the Pentagon I have had the opportunity of doing that, and
the opportunity of many meetings with cabinet members along with the commissioner,
you know in my present capacity as Public Information officer here in the Bureau.
I travel with the commissioner, and I have visited probably as many Indian
reservations as most people I can't, it's kind of hard for me to visit,
to feel that in four years that there's very few that I have not visited. And
I've done extensive travel throughout the lower forty-eight, in fact all the
states. And then of course my background in the /avy permitted me to visit all
of the continents less Antartica, I never went there, but all the others. So
I've had a chance to see various cultures, lifestyles. It's been very rewarding
to match the two together. If time permits, and I know I'm doing most of the
talking, and you probably do have ...
B: Oh, I'm fascinated.
O:p,..ave some questions, but I would like to clarify a couple little, a point about
the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and if I could just a few minutes and do that ..
B: Oh, I, I hope you will.
O: I would just like to have your, I know you're a historian of Indian affairs and
I'm a leader of it but maybe we'll see if we mesh on how we think it is, because. .
B: You're not only a historian, you're a maker of history Tom re\' _
0: Well/I guess maybe when the settlers first came to this country/there wasn't
additionally, there wasn't much of a problem you know, not initially. But at
some point in time later the two cultures became no longer compatible. The
UL 31A 21
0: settlers way of division of land etc., and the Indian culture or use of land,
the ownership and what have you by the settlers, and the use the native way,
were diametrically opposed. These two could not jell any better maybe than
Indian preference in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Civil Service Merit
Promotion System. You know you can't have a happy marriage of either of these
because they are diametrically opposed. But)anywaylno particular problem
initially, but at a point later these were no longer compatible, which eventually
led to restricting the Indian to reservations or restricting his ability to do
those things that he had done before. Now the \O'%rCrAio-/.
I guess on the other side is kind of contained in Thomas Jefferson's teachingd
in that we are an oppressed people coming to this country, but we're bringing
to this people an advanced civilization over what we find here. That was kind
of his interpretation. So therefore the solution of the problem would be to
educate, civilize, and train the Indian over to our way, and then there's plenty
of land and natural resources for everyone. Now the only problem with that
is it had varying degrees of acceptance by the Indians, you know)there .
B: Which is understandable.
0: Oh absolutely. very, you know some did and some didn't. I think the Lumbees
probably adjusted pretty well to that. Anyway they didn't get removed in the
Indian Removal Act, you know when the decision was made to remove all the Indians
from _. o they learned to farm and till the soil and not be a particular
big problem, anyway they did not get moved. But the Bureau of Indian Affairs
was then formed in 1824 under the War Department. It operates under, and then
in 1849 it was transferred to the Department of the Interior where it, you know
it's one of the oldest agencies of the government. It operates under the
legislative authority of the Snyder Act, and you're familiar with that, and it
states that basically the, it's a general authorization of the Congress, in that
the Congress will appropriate monies for the general administration, welfare,
UL 31A 22
0: health, protection etc. for Indians quote "throughout the land." Well/if you
look at that authorization and that you have a bureau charged with the advocacy
for Indians why have the Indians)you know kind of fallen to all of the lowest
levels of all of your sociological economic measurements that you can have. He's
gone to the bottom of it. How can that happen with a, with a bureau charged
27 us lo'
with the responsibility. Certain'that Snyder Act does not limit Sir performing
the duties that we want. Well now)first of all the Bureau of Indian Affairs
is an agency of government that administers a policy. In this particular case
it's the federal Indian policy. Now you have to go back and look at that federal
Indian policy, and see if policies have always, really and truly, been in the b5tf
interest of the Indians. See that's the, that's kind of the key. Our policies
over the years, at least up until 1970 was a policy to train and educate the
Indian to take his rightful place in society. You know the old melting pot, the
assimilation thing. Well the administration by the bureau was a trustee rel-
ationship. It, the federal Indian policy is one in which is attained through
treaty and executive orders. It's a trustee relationship. If we as the federal
B: And the treaty is necessary isn't it?
B: The treaty is a legal necessity.
0: W/ll the main thing is, is the role between the government and Indians is a
trustee one, so if we don't hold anything in trust for a tribe, then there is
no relationship between the federal government
B: No grounds for it.
0: No, no because it's a trustee. It'd not a guardian of Indian people. The
bureau is not a guardian of the people. It's got nothing to do with whether
an individual is _o,-_ orc nS__ or what have you. Our policy in the
bureau is thisi--t is a relationship between 264 tribes, bands and groups
UL 31A 23
O: in the lower forty-eight plus an additional 200 villages in Alaska, the Alaskan
natives. Now in order to be eligible for services in the Bureau of Indian
-2 17 D 64-
Affairs/an in individual must be an enrolled member of one of these A iS
tribes that has) you know/this treaty executive order relationship that we hold
part of Qoee-f fifty million acres of land in trust for. If you're an enrolled
member of that living on or near the reservation, and for most of all of our
programs, of one-fourth blood quantum, then that is the establishment of that
relationship. So if the Indian who, it can be to<- 4 tls
moves off into the urban area, then as I said)that relationship is not, you
know, the trustee thing is not with an Indian living in Raleigh, North Carolina
for instance. I mean he can four-fourths Navaho, move; to Raleigh, and the
program thing is back in Navaho, you know/we have our relationship with the
Navaho tribe. He's an enrolled member but our programs are back at Navaho for
this particular individual. So that's kind of misunderstood sometimes in .
B: And people are, some newsmen have said if you're off reservation you're no
longer an Indian.
O: Wellyou know that's their you know, an interpretation. There is no legal
definition for an Indian)as you're quite well aware. I think most general
is)an Indian is a person of Indian ancestrykind of known to his peers as an
Indian who, who self-identifies himself as an Indian, and is known as an Indian
by his peers. That's generally, basically it. But that's, and then/of course
if you look at the history of the census it washAl an Indian is a person who is,
who you know/regards himself or identifies himself as an Indian.
B: So the criteria differs depending on the particular branch of the federal
government, doesn't it?
O: Well, I'm really only speaking of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Now of course
we have two tribes right here in Virginia that are state reservations. We have
no relationship from the federal government to those reservations. Got nothing
to do mah .
UL 31A 24
0: That's correct. And we have other state,, ,
0: Right )onrltes"tis and the ___________ but we have other state
reservations on the east that have no relationship because their relationship
is within the state that they reside. In other words the federal government
does not hold their land in trust. It's held by either themselves or it's held
by the state. So I think that one must understand that relationship in order
to understand the federal governments role.
B: It's a legal working basis.
0: That is correct. It's as I said a trustee. If the United State Government
held, say)all or most of Rrmimea County in trust for Lumbees then you would
have that relationship. If you don't then it is not there. Now what, what about
the thing of whether it should be that way or not is not for us to decide.
That's the way it islyou know. That's the fact in it. If somebody wants to
change, then you know there are mechanisms to seek changes. Senate Joint
A ) }
Resolution 133 is going to study that, and to look at whether the relationship
that the government has had with Indians is the true and right and correct one.
Now really on the other side, or defensible for the government's position on
this is when an Indian leaves this federal Indian relationship or leaves the
reservation, you know since 1924 he was given full citizenship and the right
to vote. The government, or our positions this that when an Indian leaves
the federal Indian relationship or leaves the reservation, moves into an urban
or rural area, he's entitled to all the rights, benefits, privilegesIetc.las
any other citizen. Therefore the government has taken the position that an Indian
has those rights and therefore it is the state, city, county or what have you'
B: It's their responsibility.
O: .to provide him every what thing is necessary in order that he may, he has the
UL 31A 25
0: full rights as anyone else. The bigger question is when an Indian leaves should
he be treated any differently that any other ethnic group. Well the Congress
has not decided to change tbis at this time. But it should be different, you
know, we don't know. But you remember the /resident kind of reversed all that
federal Indian policy in 1970.
B: President Richard Nixon.
0: Right, you know he came out wit hhat historic message of July 8, in which
basically were three parts. One$ Ye're gonna, you know, that the present or
that past policy of dealing across the board with Indians has really, is now the
most deprived, depressed group of people in the United States, under a policy
that was supposed to benefit him. But you can, you know, I think it, there's
no question that this was the finest policy that has ever been established in
Indian affairs. Because one of the, you know you can look at it Lew real quickly
that, for instance the rl cofvCCS in Florida, they have very little
relationship with the San Carlos Apaches in Arizona. What do they have really
in common, these 264 groups, any more than. all the caucasiAns in Europe would
agree on priority. It's very hard to get a conformant, or a unified position
among Indians because they are just like anyone else. They have different
priorities, different viewpoints on things, and what have you. So this self-
determination without termination was a very good, sound policy. It was one in
which there were three points to it, self-determination without termination, it
was going to change the Bureau of Indian Affairs from a management organization
to a technical service organization, and then third, involve Indians in the
decision-making processes of government. These three key items were the points
within that thing. Now what does that really mean. Well the self-determination
would be Ifor instance that say(since the Seminoles or/say/the Mississippi
Choctaw tribe would come up with long range plans to solve Mississippi Choctaw
problems. The Bureau of Indian Affairs agency there at Choctaw would support
UL 31A 26
O: that tribe in solution of those problems within the funding of that agency.
They would involve the tribe in the budgeting process to determine those
priorities, and it would not be contingent on what's going on at the other
263. Because Navahos may want to go a different direction. Now the, as I
said the bureau the tribes would determine the future and direction that
they should o, and not have it contingent on the others. The consultation
and bringing Indians into the bureau, you know I was the recipient of that,
of that policy. I was asked to come into the bureau in that it was changing
to be more responsive to Indians. We got, you know we had more awareness, the
legislative proposals were submitted to the Congress, and there have been you
know monumental changes. But there's been another thing. You know in that
message it stated that, it well-defined the bureau's role and the, and the
eligibility for services out of the bureau. It stated something else. It
stated thatlyou know, at that time half the Indians in the United States lived
under the umbrella of the bureau, and half do not. Yo -merw t, you know,
Lumbees are a good example, you know. There's a lot of Indians outside the
Bureau of Indian Affairs. Now the residents message stated that, that OEO
would be the lead agency in coordinating other departments in providing or
seeing that other Indians outside of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, their
assistance is put together. That office is not in the office of Native American
Programs in HEW. Now they are charged with the off-reservation or those Indians
who fall outside the v O( vi\ZK of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
But I thought that that would be helpful to distinguish what is that federal
Indian relationship, why isAthat way, and as I said I'm not defending it one
way or the other, I'm just saying that's the way it is. It was established
through treaty and executive order. If we hold ftsources in trust, then:we
have it, if not then it's outside the bureau.
B: Well I certainly am glad you explained that relationship between the government,
UL 31A 27
B: these two distincly different groups legally. But inas much as the tape is
running short/I want to ask you, there's so many other things that I'd like to
ask you, and we just don't have the time. You don't have the time, the tape's
running out. For example, what are you going to do the rest of the day? I
know how busy you are, tell us something about it.
0: Well)Lew)this is a very exciting kind of an office. I run inquiries for
newsmen to briefings for various people, including this afternoon I have the
pleasant assignment of spending two hours with the wife of the Prime Minister
of Luxemburglwho has a very much of an interest in Indian affairs, and I will
be spending as I said/that time briefing her on general, those things that
she has a great d~l of interest in. For your .information)she is also a journalist
which you'll have an interest in.
B: You have a lot in common then.
O: I'll mention you to her, and maybe you'll have some communication with her if
she has an interest in pursuing that, but her name is Mrs. Lillian _
and I will spend about two hours. She's having lunch today with the ambassador
and state department people that flew into New York yesterday, and said high
on her list)of course, is learning more about American Indians. But next week
I'll be going out to a National Indian Education meeting in Phoenix, Arizona on
the thirteenth, then on the fourteenth Scotsdale for a National Indian Housing
conference. On the twenty-fifth I'll be going up to Bismark, North Dakota to
meet with the United Tribes on a, in discussion of an Aberdeen area office. They
have some things with the commissioner of Indian Affairs. I look very much
forward to an early down to Pembroke, of course my .
B: We're looking for you Tom.
O: I'll be down there you know during the, at least the Christmas time. I don't
know whether I'll be able to make it for Thanksgiving or notlbut you knowlmy, you
can, you can move the people, you know the Lumbees especially out of there but
UL 31A 28
0: home's still in Rebr*tMn County to me, and although I am very happy with my
assignment here Lew, I have a very exciting one, and I run into things from,
why would you work the Bureau of Indian Affairs with all the past histories of
what has happened Indians, how do you defend going in with the calvary, and
moving out the Chickasaws in 1835. .
B: You don't have to do thatJdo you?
0: Well you know I got a call just recently saying, "How could you as an official
spokesman of the government defend morally, legally, or any other way, having
dealt with the particular treaty, and then going in there later, and routing
the people out youknow, and taking their land?" And of course then you have
to put things in perspective. You've got to understand the system of government,
that no Congress can bind the future Congress. The Congress 4 -A ~C
4-c.AvL ) negotiated 'em with Indians, but the thing isa future Congress may
re-negotiate that treaty, and in most cases they did under the quame, you know,
saying it's considered in the best interest of the United States. So really
to understand it you must take a position that,# we have treaties with other
countries now. Fifty years from now it may be decided that quote in the
interest of the United States, that it might need to be altered." But again,
I'd just like to Apy how happy I am to have seen you, and participate in this,
and maybe we can do it again when we have, have more time. My best to your son/
Lew. I'm a great admirer of his efforts on behalf of the Carolina Indian Voice,
and again I hope something can be done to memorialize all of the, our people
that I have great admiration for as I've said especially the Indian leadership,
Paul Sampson, a coach that I have great, who had a great influence on my life,
through athletics and continuation in school. Of course my parents and all of the
ones who helped encourage me to continue in education. But as I said, if that
permit you to take the advantage of the other, you know. And if you, my grand-
father who could see just dividing, continuing to divide up the land, it's gonna
UL 31A 29
0: run out pretty soon, because you can't do it that way. But Lew/again, thanks
atot, and wish you well, and please stay in touch.
B: We'll certainly do that, and we want to thank you so much. This is such a
valuable and enlighting interview. Your explanations as always are so clear,
your heart is in the right place, and your brain too. Always)Tom, you're
always there at the right time doing the right thing. And we are so honored to
have this interview with you, and you are so kind to take this time off from
your very busy schedule and sit down and talk with us. And I want to wish you
God's speed in all that you attempt to do, because you do everything so well,
and thank you from the bottom of my heart.
0: Thank you very much Lew.