Long journey to see Code Talkers honored
From the Desk of Chief Gregory E. Pyle
World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1918. There were approximately 16 million deaths and 21 million wounded attributed to the four-year duration of the war. On Nov. 20 – 95 years later – the original group of Code Talkers whose tactics helped end the devastation of World War I were awarded Congressional Gold Medals along with World War I and World War II Code Talkers from the Choctaw Nation and 32 other Native American tribes. Each native nation had its own unique design and seeing them lined up, gleaming tributes under the lights, was one of my life’s greatest moments.
Our trip to the ceremony didn’t begin with a bus ride from the hotel on the morning of Nov. 20. It began decades ago. I sat in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall with tribal leaders, family members and friends, remembering the journey leading to this momentous occasion.
Raising recognition of the Choctaw Code Talkers began as soon as their “secret” was revealed. The original group swore to not tell anyone so that their method of communicating could be effectively used again. Even after World War II and the repeated use of Code Talkers, several of the original group died without telling their families. They had given their word.
The Choctaw Nation’s commitment to honor these men increased with many, many trips to the Capitol to walk the halls of Congress. Hundreds of letters were written and calls made by tribal members everywhere. All of this was repeated, over and over again – the dedication to make it happen a driving force for us all.
A lot of the people who fought for the Code Talkers and were instrumental in planning the ceremony were also there – former U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco, Assistant Chief Gary Batton, the Rev. Bertram Bobb and his son, Fred Bobb, Judy Allen, Tribal Council and family members. The excitement among the hundreds of people in the room was palpable. It was an honor to meet Edmund Harjo of the Seminole Nation, one of the last surviving Code Talkers.
There were several who couldn’t be there. One face in particular was missing, one who shared her story of “Papa” and the Code Talkers everywhere she went – Ruth Frazier McMillan. Ruth, the daughter of WWI Choctaw Code Talker Tobias Frazier, not only went to D.C., she visited schools and civic organizations, wrote the letters and called her Congressmen and anyone else she thought could help. She was a force all her own. Ruth passed away in October. She knew her dream had been realized and she was able to be with us in September at the Highway 3 dedication in Antlers for the WWI Choctaw Code Talkers. We will all miss her very much.
Family members of 16 of the 19 WWI Code Talkers and the four WWII Code Talkers were present – grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Ages ranged up to almost 90 years old and it was a wonderful experience to see their joy. A silver medal reception was held later just for the family. Edith Billy, the widow of Schlicht Billy, who was a Code Talker in WWII and the last of the Choctaw Code Talkers to pass away, was there and accepted the silver medal in memory of her husband.
The event is one of the Choctaw Nation’s greatest in history and I am thankful to everyone who was a part of it, and most of all to the Code Talkers for their unique contributions in protecting the land they called home.