Excerpt from Arizona Goes to War
Chapter 5 - “American Indians and the War Effort”

The cold steel of a rifle pressed into William McCabe’s back. Since all he was doing was searching for orange juice, he thought one of his buddies was joking around. “I kept digging,” he says years later when relating the incident.

“Come on, you dumb Jap, let’s go!” the soldier wielding the rifle ordered. McCabe froze.

As a Navajo Indian, his genes, the ones he had inherited from his Athabaskan ancestors who crossed the land bridge from Asia many centuries before, gave him a slightly Asian look. That, he knew, along with his brown skin, raven-black hair, and short stature, could cause military personnel to mistake him for a Japanese soldier. They were known to infiltrate American military camps. McCabe also knew a firing squad awaited those who were caught.

The soldier took him to the provost marshal. McCabe’s marine uniform, dog tags, and fluent English carried little weight. “There’s a lot of Japanese that go to Ohio State, you know,” the provost marshal said, and, because they had no facilities to hold prisoners, ended the interview with, “I don’t want the Jap. Go shoot him.”

Fifteen soldiers surrounded McCabe, some with machine guns, and the sergeant of the guard held a cocked .45 against his back. They marched him away. “I didn’t know whether to run, or cry, or do anything,” McCabe remembers. “I had my hands up. I kept them up high all the way and didn’t move them at all.”

Desperate, he told them, “My outfit’s down there,” but he wasn’t quite sure where; sweat poured down his face, making it difficult to see. Someone believed him, or possibly thought it a good idea to check out his story before shooting him.

When at last they found McCabe’s fellow marines, their lackadaisical, “Yeah, he’s one of ours,” didn’t cut it with the sergeant of the guard. He wanted proof positive, and he wasn’t getting it. As he turned to go, ready to carry out the provost marshal’s command, a lieutenant appeared.

“We caught this man over there in our yard,” the sergeant told him. “We think he’s a Jap. If you guys don’t identify him, we’re gonna go back and shoot him.”

Not only did the lieutenant identify McCabe to the army’s satisfaction, but the marines assigned him “a real tall white guy” as a bodyguard who followed him everywhere, even to the shower and the head.