What You Didn’t Know About Indian Code Talkers

Most everyone has heard about Navajo Code Talkers. They are widely known as tribal members who spoke their language during World War II while communicating with various units of our armed forces. Their purpose was to prevent the enemy to listen to our wartime communications between various combat units. But, actually, they developed their own code using the Navajo language. Yes, in fact, no other Navajo could even understand what was being transmitted. And neither could the enemy.

But the Navajo tribe was but one of many nations who became code talkers. There were other Native American tribes involved with code talking throughout the last two centuries. Various tribes worked with our military beginning during the the Indian Wars of the 19th Century.

Members of a number of tribes communicated with 26 languages and dialects during World War I. These code talkers came from Choctaw, Cheyenne, Comanche, Cherokee, Osage, and Yankton Sioux tribes.

During World War II, code talkers were used on both war continents. The Army and Marine Corps used a group of 24 Navajo code talkers in the Pacific Theater. Seminoles were used in the Battle at Iwo Jima. Eight Soldiers from the Meskwaki tribe in Iowa served as code talkers in North Africa in Europe.

A total of 33 different tribes served in World Wars I and II including Navajo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Cherokee, Osage, Lakota, Dakota, Chippewa, Oneida, Sac and Fox, Meskwaki, Hopi, Assiniboine, Kiowa, Pawnee, Akwesasne, Menominee, Creek, Cree Seminole Tribes, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, with Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, and other unlisted tribes.

Unfortunately, the code talkers didn’t get proper recognition for their service until Congress passed the Code Talkers Recognition Act in 2002. The goal of the law was to 

Recognize the important part that these Soldiers played in “performing highly successful communications operations of a unique type that greatly assisted in saving countless lives and in hastening the end of World War I and World War II.

And further, it recognized that code talkers worked

Under some of the heaviest combat action … around the clock to provide information … such as the location of enemy troops and the number of enemy guns.

Indeed, 25 members of various Indian tribes have been recognized with the Medal of Honor. This medal is our highest award presented to those military service members for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. Their actions took place alongside other members of our military dating from various Indian Wars in the 19th Century (16), the Korean War (4), and World War II (5).

In 2008, Congress passed the Code Talkers Recognition Act. And, on Nov. 20, 2013, code talkers from 566 tribes were honored with Congressional Silver Medals. This medal is

Congress’s highest expression of appreciation – was awarded in recognition of the valor and dedication of these code talkers as members of our Armed Forces during World War I and World War II.

At the time, Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) remarked about code talkers:

“Because of them, deeds that may well have been relegated to legend will now live on in memory. And heroes who for too long went unrecognized will now be given our highest recognition.”

And finally, you take time to visit the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. It would certainly be worth your time to honor those who helped the U.S. win both of our world wars.

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Chuck Yarling has had many titles in his career thus far: veteran, engineer, math teacher, consultant, technical writer, book author and publisher, and triathlete. He was a member the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Bugles Across America, which plays Taps at military funerals and special events. Spec. 5 Chuck Yarling served with the 26th Combat Engineering Battalion in Vietnam as an awards clerk. His service with the U.S. Army resulted in being awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Army Commendation Medal. You may reach Chuck at [email protected]

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