The Mighty Moose: Sergeant Frank LaHaye

by D.J. Vanas © 2007
News From Indian Country

June 1, 1917

Belleau Woods, France

Marine Sergeant Frank “Moose” LaHaye was wondering in this momentary quiet, how an Odawa Indian from Upper Hamlin Lake, Michigan, ended up here in the French forest alone behind enemy lines. His brown skin was caked in dirt and gunpowder and his uniform was soaked through with sweat and splattered with the blood of his fallen friends. His ears were still ringing from the recent gun battle, but thankfully all he heard now was his own heartbeat and artillery in the distance.

Hunkered low against a tree, Moose couldn't help but think of how much this scene reminded him of deer hunting in the forests of Michigan, though now he was the prey and the Germans were the hunters. He gripped his Springfield 1903 rifle tighter, shaking his head at the irony as the sweat ran down his face.

Moose had been tasked with taking a squad of eight men to clear out a hostile corner of the woods and then hold a bridge until reinforcements came. Attacked by Germans in withering, merciless waves of gunfire, Moose’s unit fought like lions, but lost seven out of the eight and the eighth man was shot in the arm. Moose sent the wounded man back to their lines while he stayed in his position an hour and a half to cover him from advancing Germans.

When he finally started back, Moose had to play hide and kill with German pickets and scouts. Adding to the terror of being alone in enemy territory was the near sightless landscape, covered in thick white smoke from spent gunpowder. The sharp, sweet smell burned the back of his throat and his eyes as he moved cautiously through the dense woods. This wasn’t a dime store action novel – this was all too real.

Upon returning to his lines, Moose came under another barrage of fire, this time from the American forces who mistakenly thought he was an enemy. He shouted over the gunfire until one of the friendly forces recognized the voice of Sergeant LaHaye.

For his actions, Moose was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism and bravery under fire. Moose went on to even greater heroics in the battle of Soissons, where he was one of only three volunteers to draw fire and locate enemy machine guns. On this mission, Moose was severely wounded, taking three rounds to the stomach and one to the thigh. Despite the damage to his body, five weeks later he rejoined his unit in St. Mihiel and “went over” the trenches into the fury of enemy fire four times. After being badly burned by liquid fire, he was wounded to the point of being unfit for further service.

Moose was sent home on the cruiser North Carolina and was greeted into New York Harbor by the Statue of Liberty, a welcome sight indeed. When reflecting on his actions, Moose never saw them as heroic or even exceptional – he felt he was only doing his duty and trying to protect his men. In fact, he was quoted as saying “I tell you when a fellow is in a corner with death staring him in the face from every direction and hiding behind every bush, he is going to use his wits and try everything to get out. Any fellow will do that, it isn’t any special courage, just love of life.”

I’m not only proud of Frank “Moose” LaHaye as a fellow veteran and Odawa Indian. But he is also my great-great- Uncle and I’m proud to be his relative. He was a common man who did extraordinary things when the situation required it, like so many of our nation’s military men and women. Moose had not only a courageous heart, but a warm one as well, despite the horrors he’d endured.

My dad remembers seeing Uncle Moose’s multiple belly buttons where the bullets left their marks across his belly. He also has wonderful memories of planning with Uncle Moose, for hours on end, for an imaginary trip to the Amazon or Africa. They created lists and pictures of gear they would need on the adventure. Those tender memories still choke up my dad to this day.

During this time of the year, we celebrate Veterans Day and other holidays and honor all those who have served and who are serving today. We should also honor their families, who make such great sacrifices as they support that loved one in service. We as Native people should be especially proud as we have the highest service rates per population of any ethnicity in the United States, still displaying the warrior spirit common to all tribal nations.

To all my fellow veterans… thank you for what you have done, the sacrifices you’ve made and the efforts you’ve put forth to keep our nation free. Aho.

D.J. Eagle Bear Vanas (Odawa) is a nationally acclaimed motivational storyteller, success coach and the author of the celebrated book, The Tiny Warrior: A Path to Personal Discovery & Achievement and audio CD series The Warrior Within. D.J. uses traditional warrior concepts and wisdom to inspire people to achieve their best in life, school and career and owns Native Discovery Inc., a company dedicated to “building the warriors of tomorrow…today.” He can be reached at (719) 282-7747 or at


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