Drawing Fire: A Pawnee Indian, Artist, and Thunderbird in World War II

Sergeant Brummett Echohawk narrates key episodes of his time with the 45th U.S. Thunderbird Infantry Division, “the Rock of Anzio.” From Sicily, Salerno, and, Anzio, with reproduced sketches originating from the field of battle. Ellenbarger brings this amazing memoir to life as he shares his work of almost twenty years.

Ellenbarger began continuing the legacy at Brummett Echohawk's request. Working out of his studio/home, which would take Ellenbarger back in time, from the memories as a young boy through his life as an adult being able to share at Echohawk's wake many stories of these old warriors. Many men, his Brothers In Arms, would travel across the country to pay their respect to this honored warrior. 

Sadly, the home had been flooded and many of Echohawk's works were damaged to the extent where restoration would be impossible. Echohawk's home would eventually be restored while work on the memoir and the book continued.


With Ellenbarger's notes and sketches, he began a long journey on to the battlefields of Europe. Names, places, and endless locations each had a story. The problem solving would begin as the accuracy of events was paramount. 

Ellenbarger along with some of the top historians on the European theatre, such as Flint Whitlock, Rock of Anzio and Desperate Valour. Native Americans from WWI to present, Warriors In Uniform-Smithsonian Institute, Dr. Herman J Viola and Mark's cousin, Lawrence J Hickey-historian of the highest caliber. During Vietnam, Larry was on Henry Kissinger's staff with the Defense Intelligence Agency.  

In the end, the work Drawing Fire is now in publication. A true work of honor for all to read. These warriors were endless in their resolve. This is the "one of kind," never told before about what it was like to fight beside a group of warriors trained from childhood in the ways of old, where many lives ended with their "death cry," holding fire to the last round. 



                  A Pawnee, Artist, and Thunderbird in World War II”

                      by Brummett Echohawk and Mark R Ellenbarger

July 19, 2019, Uncategorized American autobiography/biographyAmerican historyautobiographybattlefield memoirBrummett EchohawkD-DayEchohawkEuropean historyinfantrylanguagememoirmilitary historyNative American cultureNative American religionNative AmericansPawnee Nation, along with many other tribes, prisoners of warrecent historyUS ArmyWW IIWW II Italian campaign

University Press of Kansas, 2018, 215 pages plus Glossary (Native American Terms and Phrases, also designations of weapons), Dramatis Personae (Echohawk and his comrades used both Native and mainstream names, as well as tribal affiliations) and Index. More than one hundred portraits, sketches, and photographs.


In early June, my local public library featured a display of books about World War II, in honor of the D-Day anniversary. I grabbed two books. Drawing Fire caught my attention because of the generous inclusion of artwork, most produced on the battlefield by the author.

Don’t you love the name Echohawk? Brummett Echohawk was born in 1922, into a Pawnee family long connected with the American military. At age 18, he joined the Oklahoma National Guard. His unit, which included more than 1000 Native Americans, was deployed in the retaking of Italy in 1943. This memoir is a battlefield classic.


Echohawk identified as both a soldier and a warrior, bringing TWO lives, languages, skill sets and worldviews into the war. “Warrior” carries profound cultural/spiritual weight in addition to what English speakers generally mean by “soldier”. In addition to being bilingual, the Pawnee (and members of other tribes) used sign language (hand signs) which improved their communications. They also used animal calls to communicate between units, usually just to say “We’re here, goodnight” but occasionally to warn of danger.

It’s not clear to me just how Echohawk wrote these memoirs. Diaries and journals are discouraged (forbidden?) on the battlefield because they could reveal classified information to the enemy. Echohawk was a diligent artist, drawing at every opportunity. Some of his sketches are on stationery provided by the Red Cross – many are tattered and stained. Most are annotated with names and locations. He sketched prisoners of war as well as soldiers from various allied nations. Many of his subjects were his closest friends, not all of whom survived.

The recapture of Italy was grueling and sometimes seemed impossible. At one point, Echohawk’s infantry division was told to prepare for the possibility of being overrun and captured. He ripped out the front page of his Bible, because it identified his Army unit, but then he hid it in a sketchpad. The native American fighters discussed their dilemma – Pawnee warriors (who call themselves “Men of Men”) do not surrender, but American soldiers follow orders, surrendering if their superiors tell them to.


The war ground on and on. Everything was in short supply, even water. The soldiers rigged improvised weapons and haunted the first aid stations (from which the injured were being evacuated) to replace their destroyed uniforms and to scavenge parts for their guns. The scale of waste and suffering and loss is hard to comprehend.

Echohawk survived the Italian campaign, returned home and died in 2006, after a distinguished career as an artist and illustrator. Read this book!

                                 WWII HISTORY MAGAZINE

                                          DRAWING FIRE

                               A Pawnee, Artist, and Thunderbird in World War II

                         by Brummett Echohawk and Mark R Ellenbarger

 University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 2018, map, illustrations, glossary, index, $29.95, hardcover)

            Brummett Echohawk joined the Oklahoma National Guard in 1940.  His unit, the 179th Infantry Regiment of the 45th “Thunderbird” Infantry Division, mixed farmers, cowboys, and over a thousand Native Americans into a formidable American unit. Brummett and his comrades shipped overseas in Spring 1943 and soon entered combat. The invasion of Sicily came first, followed by the ordeal of Salerno and the crucible of Anzio. The fighting proved difficult; Brummett lost many friends along the way, but he did justice to their memories by capturing their experiences on paper. Brummett was an artist, a skill gained at the Pawnee boarding school he attended as a boy. His combat sketches and portraits of soldiers drawn at a military hospital capture the sacrifice, courage, and suffering of the frontline soldier. Brummett had the first-hand experience of this; he was not an official combat artist. Rather, he was an infantryman who often served as a scout for his company, a dangerous role fraught with risk.

            This new work is part sketchbook and part memoir. Many of Brummett’s drawings are interspersed throughout the extensive text, which poignantly relates the reality of infantry combat. The text is straightforward and easy to follow, conveying its meaning effectively to the reader. There is an emphasis on the experience of Native American soldiers, who made up a large portion of the unit, faced occasional prejudice but proved themselves the equal of any soldiers on the battlefield."






The story begins with the division’s botched landing in Anzio and focuses on days of close combat and frequent confusion familiar to so many GIs in the European theater. Echohawk’s detailed drawings capturing the humanity, fear, and relentless bravery of his fellow division members on spare paper were noticed first by his superior officers, who assigned him to gather intelligence and then by a visiting entertainer, who helped him get them published in international newspapers, leading to his postwar career as an artist. The division, nicknamed the Thunderbirds, included numerous members of various Native American tribes, who used traditional skills to track and hide; Echohawk movingly recalls the language and warrior traditions he and his fellow Native soldiers followed—and, in one episode, humorously recalls fake ones they invented to intimidate insolent German captives. This excellent and fascinating account is a unique contribution to the literature of WWII. 



-Publishers Weekly, October 2018   Star Review Top 20


Author Reviews


"This memoir is an outstanding contribution to the literature of World War II and, hopefully, will instill pride (and perhaps even awe) in current and future generations of readers who want to know what the war was like for the individual fighting man—especially one of Native American heritage. Although Native Americans have been terribly discriminated against for centuries by the US government, the men who served their country as warriors demonstrated courage and loyalty out of all proportion to their numbers. Brummett Echohawk was one of these warriors, and his story is among the best personal accounts of the war that one will find."


—Flint Whitlock, author of The Rock of Anzio: From Sicily to Dachau, a History of the U.S. 45th Infantry Division

“Drawing Fire is a sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, but always fascinating account of the 1943 invasion of Italy by the 45th ‘Thunderbird’ Division, which gained fame because of the number of Native American soldiers in the companies, their bravery and leadership skills, and their use of tribal languages (in this case mostly Pawnee), sign language, and honored warrior traditions. Echohawk’s oral history, which reads like a well-paced action movie script, will be of great interest to World War II military buffs and a substantive contribution to historians and researchers in the sparse field on Native Americans in World War II.”

—Jeré Bishop Franco, author of Crossing the Pond: The Native American Effort in World War II




"Drawing Fire is a unique and invaluable contribution about American Indians serving in the United States Armed Forces during World War II. It is the personal memoir of the self-taught Pawnee artist Brummett Echohawk, who developed his artistic skills on the battlefields of Europe as a member of the famed 45th Infantry. The reader of this gripping narrative will feel like a participant in what is often the tedium of military service punctuated by the horrors of combat."


—Herman J. Viola, curator emeritus, Smithsonian Institution

“Brummett Echohawk served with the 45th Infantry Division throughout Italy where he was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Congressional Gold Medal (posthumously). Drawing on his tribal heritage, following the war he dedicated himself to preserving traditional Pawnee culture and became a nationally recognized Native American artist.”

—Kenny A. Franks, coauthor of Pawnee Pride: A History of Pawnee County