Munsee military service dates back to 1700s

Greg Mast
Katherine Henry Kilbuck Beggs, seated next to her daughter, Mary Beggs, played a key role in teaching students how to crack codes and signing during World War II. [SUBMITTED PHOTO].

The Munsee tribe ancestors have served in the military from the 1700s to present day.

Many of the veterans are buried in the Munsee Cemetery, located in Franklin County’s Chippewa Hills. Munsee tribe members pay tribute to their ancestors each Veterans Day.

One veteran of note is still alive. Katherine Henry Kilbuck Beggs, who will be 104 years old this month, joined the armed forces in 1943. She joined the WAVES (Women's Part of the Navy) as a commissioned officer.

Her job was top secret and took that vow extremely seriously. In her 100th year, she revealed she taught codes and signing. Those students went on to crack codes to help the military know when and where of upcoming attacks in both theaters.

She was born Katherine Henry Kilbuck (she’s quarter Native American) in 1916 in Hood River, Oregon. She graduated high school in 1934 then headed off to college at the University of Nebraska where she received her Bachelors and Masters degrees by 1939.

She lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, for six years with a relative and always planned to be a teacher. Returning to the Pacific Northwest in 1939, she taught in Olympia, Washington, until 1943.

In 1944, she married Lloyd W. Beggs, who she had known back in Hood River. He also joined the Army and was a part of the battle of Anzio in Italy. He majored in journalism at the University of Oregon.

The Munsee tribe members have been involved in several conflicts in U.S. history.

After being pushed from their ancestral lands in the Hudson River Valley, a number of Munsee, Mahican, and Delaware people converted to the Moravian faith to avoid war in the 1740s in Pennsylvania at Freidenshutten.

Those who converted to the Moravian faith pursued pacifism and neutrality. Gelelemend and Israel Welapachtshechen were among those Delaware men who sought neutrality during the American Revolutionary War.

The French and Indian War pushed the Moravian Indian Community to Wyandotte lands where Gnadenhutten was established. During the American Revolutionary War, the Gnadenhutten Massacre of these Munsee people's ancestors took place in 1782.

After the community went to Fairfield/Moraviantown for safety in Upper Canada in 1792, the Battle of Moraviantown took place between the American soldiers and British soldiers and Tecumseh's warriors in October 1813.

In reading the Smithsonian Interview on the Munsee Indians from 1912, Caleb, the father of John Rufus Caleb and Sabilla Caleb, was identified as an 1812 War Veteran.

Moses Kilbuck fought in the Civil War with the 15th Kansas Regiment. Ignatius Caleb fought at Honey Springs in the Civil War.

Caleb, Spooner, Supernaw, Viex, Plake, Kilbuck, and Bittenbender tribal members served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and in recent military conflicts like Desert Storm.

Kilbuck and Bittenbender descendants were highly decorated in Vietnam being awarded many medals including the Purple Heart and the Golden Star. There are at least 20 retired and active duty Munsee descendants in 2020.

These veterans fought bravely for a country they predate in existence as indigenous tribal nations.

George Gregory Kilbuck was a casualty in the Vietnam War. Kilbuck was reported missing and ultimately declared dead on Aug. 27, 1965.

Kilbuck is buried or memorialized at Ridgecrest Memorial Cemetery, Bethel, Bethel Census Area, Alaska. His name is on the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington D.C.

Lance Corporal Jimmie Leroy Johnson also died in the Vietnam War as member of the Marine Corps. His name is on the Vietnam Wall. He died in 1967.

His parents are Vincent L. and Cornelia Bittenbender Johnson. His siblings are Ramona Johnson Hildebrandt and Rebecca Johnson Beers.

George Gregory Kilbuck