Congressional Gold Medals awarded in honor of Code Talkers
The highest honor bestowed by Congress – the Congressional Gold Medal – was awarded to the Choctaw Nation, along with 32 other tribes on Wednesday, Nov. 20, in recognition of the bravery, honor and commitment of their Native American Code Talkers, who used their language as an unbreakable code for transmitting messages on the battlefield during World Wars I and II. Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate honored these Code Talkers in a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony held in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.
Leaders of each of the tribes or nations of the Code Talkers, all but one of whom have passed away, were presented the gold medals at the ceremony. Chief Gregory E. Pyle accepted the gold medal on behalf of the Choctaw Code Talkers.
“It was an extremely humbling honor to accept the award on behalf of our brave Choctaw warriors,” said Chief Gregory E. Pyle. “Many people worked tirelessly to see our Code Talkers honored for their brave, gallant actions in battle. The Choctaw Code Talkers were the original group to use their native language as a weapon. That one small group of Choctaw men helped turn the tide during World War I and was so successful that their method of communications was repeated in World War II. I’m proud to see their courageous actions recognized.”
Speakers at the ceremony include House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), as well as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr.
In his opening statement, Speaker Boehner describes the Code Talkers as “the bravest of the brave.” He continued, “After they served with honor they did the honorable thing – they kept their service a secret, even to those that they loved.”
He thanked the families of the Code Talkers, saying because of them and their perseverance, “the deeds that may have been relegated to legend will now live on in memory and now heroes who long went unrecognized will now be given our highest recognition.”
He also thanked former Oklahoma Congressman Dan Boren, who was in attendance at the ceremony, calling him one of the original champions of the Code Talker legislation.
Pelosi remarked during her speech, “The Code Talkers, using their language, carried forward the hopes of their people, committed to the cause of freedom. Their sense of duty was never shaken – nor was their resolve. Their patriotism never wavered – nor did their courage. Their bonds of brotherhood were never broken – nor was their code.
“For their heroism and sacrifice, for the contributions that went unrecognized for too long, it is a privilege for Congress to award the Native American Code Talkers the highest honor we can bestow: the Congressional Gold Medal.”
Family members representing the 23 Choctaw Code Talkers – 19 from World War I and four from World War II – were presented medals at a separate Silver Medals presentation ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
One family member, Nuchi Nashoba, who is also the president of the Choctaw Code Talkers Association and granddaughter of Code Talker Ben Carterby, said, “It’s an exciting day for all of us because we waited so long for this to happen. I’m so thankful that we are able to experience this great, wonderful, historic event. As a descendent, it’s such an honor, such an honor, to be here.
“There are so many that walked the halls of Congress to get support to have the Code Talkers Recognition bill passed. It’s taken many, many years. It’s great to have our own government recognize our Code Talkers.
“As soldiers, they went to war; they didn’t brag, they didn’t boast about what they did,” she explained. “It was up to us to make this [recognition] happen and to brag on these people who went to war to keep us free. We’ve all become so close and so attached to this cause. It’s up to us to continue to tell their story. We do it in order to honor the men that went to war.
“I’m thankful to the Choctaw Nation and for the display they’ve created in Tvshka Homma,” she continues. “It will allow Choctaws for many generations to learn of their legacy, read their story and see their medals.”
Another family member, D.G. Smalling, great-grandson of Code Talker Calvin Wilson, said to finally have the medal was amazing. “We have a very unique situation with our family,” he said. “We’ve actually been to where they fought.
“The Arragone Forest in northern France,” said his mother, Janet Smalling, grandson of Calvin Wilson.
“It’s amazing to finally have this [medal] and to have the frame of reference of where they fought,” D.G. said.
Many of the families have donated the silver medals to the Choctaw Nation to be displayed at the Code Talker exhibit at the Choctaw museum in Tvshka Homma.
The Choctaw Code Talkers during World War I were Joseph Oklahombi, Calvin Wilson, Robert Taylor, Ben Carterby, Solomon Louis, Albert Billy, Pete Maytubby, James Edwards, Noel Johnson, Tobias Frazier, Joe Davenport, George Davenport, Mitchell Bobb, Ben Hampton, Walter Veach, Otis Leader, Ben Colbert, Jeff Nelson, and Victor Brown. Those from World War II were Schlicht Billy, Davis Pickens, Andrew Perry and Forreston T. Baker.
Along with the Choctaw Nation, several Oklahoma tribes were also honored including the Comanche, Seminole, Cherokee, Pawnee and Muscogee Creek Nations, as well the Osage, Kiowa, Ponca, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.
Also, tribes from Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin were among those awarded medals including Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Montana, Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, Hopi Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, Pueblo of Acoma Tribe, Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa/Meskwaki Nation, Santee Sioux Nation, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Tonto Apache Tribe, White Mountain Apache, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Crow Nation, Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Laguna Pueblo Tribe, Lower Brulé Sioux Tribe, Menominee Tribe, Mohawk Tribe, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
Bronze duplicate medals are available for purchase from the United States Mint.
Janet Smalling, granddaughter of Calvin Wilson, and Shirley Geller, granddaughter of Joseph Oklahombi, accept the silver medals at a ceremony at the National Museum of the American Indian.
For more insight into the life of a code talkers, watch this video of Ruth McMillian talking about her father Tobias Frazier, an original code talker.