By Shannon Collins
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
SOUTH GATE, Calif., Nov. 28, 2014 – The head woman dancer at a recent Native American Veterans Association pow-wow is a retired sailor who helped blaze the path for women in the Navy.
Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Old Horn-Purdy, from the Crow tribe, took part in the annual Veterans Appreciation and Heritage Day here on Nov. 8-9, 2014. She was one of the first females in the Navy to serve on a combatant ship.
Long before she ever set out to sea, however, Horn-Purdy’s journey began on the Crow Agency reservation in Montana.
“I grew up around very traditional grandparents, and my father would pass down stories. We had oral history,” she said. “They would teach us from our ancestors. Nothing was written down. I grew up knowing some of my language, but my first language was English. I went to school off the reservation, so I lived in both worlds.”
She said it was a culture shock when she went to the school off the reservation, but she had to adapt.
Horn-Purdy said she joined the military for the benefits, such as education, training and travel.
“I needed a place to sleep, something to eat and, for me, that was good enough,” she said, adding that she wanted to “learn, that was the main reason.” She said she can relate to other military people coming from other countries who are just glad to have some place to sleep, eat and work.
When she got to her ship in 1985, she found out she was among the first group of women on her deployed ship. Then, in 1999, she found out that she was to be among the first group of women on a combatant ship.
“It was hard, but we had to adapt if we wanted to continue and learn and do our job,” she said. She was in engineering but wasn’t allowed to call herself a machinist at that time. She said that, at her three-year mark in service, the career field opened up to women.
One of the First
“I ended up becoming a machinist, one of the first women in there,” she said. “I ended up advancing quickly through that because not too many people wanted to be in there. I don’t know if it was because I was naïve or young, but I used to think, ‘I’m going to be tough. I’m Indian. I’m going to make it.’ It was hard to learn the theories and engineering principles. I’m thankful for the co-workers who helped me through it. It was hard, but I got through it.
“I’m appreciative of those particular men who would look beyond my race and gender and would try to teach me and help me to think the way I should think so I have a lot to be thankful for. They helped me learn,” she said.
Serving in the military is also a Native American tradition. Her paternal grandfather, Allen Old Horn served in the Army in World War II and her maternal grandfather, George Thompson, was in the Navy in World War II. Her great uncles Barney and Henry Old Coyote were code talkers in World War II, and great-grandfather James Red Fox was also one in World War I.
Old Horn-Purdy said her father, Sarge Old Horn Sr., encouraged her throughout her time in the military and is proud of her time in the uniform.
Since the Beginning
She said Native Americans have defended America since the beginning.
“Native Americans weren’t given medals or accolades that we get now for defending America,” she said. “But we still have to protect America, no matter what. It’s in our blood.”
She encourages people to attend pow wows in their communities to learn more about Native American culture.
“You don’t have to be Indian to be at a pow-wow,” she said. “Many people don’t know anything about Indians so it’s great to educate them about us, because Indians have a different viewpoint and different stories. It’s good for people to learn and see what we’re all about.”