WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 14, 2013) – American Indian achievements in the Army and Marine Corps are depicted in a Pentagon display on loan this week from the Smithsonian Institution.
Posters, from the National Museum of the American Indian, feature American Indians’ contribution to national defense, as part of November’s American Indian Heritage Month observance.
The exhibit is on the Pentagon’s second floor, along the innermost A ring, near the second corridor, through Friday. Following are some of the accounts depicted on the illustrations, beginning with World War I:
CHOCTAW CODE TALKERS
In October 1918, Choctaw Soldiers joined the 36th Infantry Division, becoming some of the Army’s first code talkers.
Col. A. W. Bloor, commander, 142nd Infantry, said of them: “The enemy’s complete surprise is evidence that he could not decipher the message.”
Within 24 hours after the Choctaw sent their first message, the tide of battle turned and U.S. Soldiers drove the Germans out of Foret Ferme, France.
After this success, the Army set up a formal Choctaw training program.
Tewanna Jann Anderson-Edwards, of the Chickasaw/Choctaw tribes, the great-niece of Otis Leader, a World War I Army code talker, said, “It has been my ultimate goal to see that my great-uncle, Otis W. Leader, gets the due recognition he so deserves for his service to his country when the U.S. did not even recognize him as a citizen, much less as a human being. He has instilled in me a determination to succeed beyond my own expectations. I’m so thankful his blood runs through my veins, and (through) my children’s, and my grandchildren’s.”
SAC & FOX CODE TALKERS
Just before America entered World War II, 27 Meskwaki speakers from the Sac and Fox tribes joined the 168th Iowa National Guard, which went into active service January 1941, as part of the 34th Division. Eight of them became code talkers during the North Africa Campaign.
Frank Sanache, one of the Meskwaki, said, “We know the enemy is there, and they know we are there. But no fireworks between us. Because if you fire on the one man, that lets the whole army know something’s going on there. So we just don’t fire. You gotta make sure that he don’t know you’re there while you’re reporting (code talking).”
The Meskwaki continued with the 34th as they fought up the boot of Italy through Salerno and Naples and on to the liberation of Rome, June 4, 1944.
“They would tell their stories at the tribal ceremonies. They were treated like old-time warriors,” said Alex Walker after the war. He was chairman of the Meskwaki Tribal Council.
COMANCHE CODE TALKERS
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, 14 Comanche code talkers, serving in the 4th Signal Corps, 4th Division landed on Utah Beach in Normandy, France.
They transmitted important messages that affected the outcomes of many battles. If radio or phones failed, code talkers carried messages on their bodies, running, crawling across beaches, behind enemy lines and under fire.
“The mortars started coming in and I ran, saying ‘c’mon, Moon.’ I looked back and he just sat there slumped over. So I picked him up and put him on my shoulder and ran not quite 100 yards where that house was. I laid him in the basement. He took two deep breaths and that was it,” reported Charles Chibitty, an Army Comanche with 4th Signal.
Later, Comanche warriors turned back the Nazis at St. Lo, and also during the Battle of the Bulge. Two were wounded. One received the Bronze Star.
HOPI & NAVAJO
Hopi and Navajo code talkers were very active in the Pacific campaign, helping Marines and Soldiers as they island-hopped their way across to Okinawa, the Japanese homeland. The exhibit goes into great detail about their exploits and sacrifices.
For many American Indian veterans after the war, the most difficult part of coming home was facing discrimination; signs reading “No dogs or Indians” hung on the doors of some businesses in their communities.
On the positive side, many veterans, including American Indians, took advantage of the G.I. Bill to get a college education, which led to good jobs.
In 1968, 23 years after the end of World War II, the U.S. government declassified the Navajo code talker program and recognized its unsung heroes.
In 1983, the Fuji Evening newspaper in Tokyo reported, “If the Japanese Imperial Intelligence Team could have decoded the Navajo messages, the outcome of the battles on Saipan and Iwo Jima might have been different; the history of the Pacific war might have turned out completely different.”
At a 1989 ceremony, the French government decorated Choctaw and Comanche code talkers, awarding them the Knight of the National Order of Merit medals.