Choctaw Nation France VisitPhoto by Christian Toews

Chief Gary Batton and Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. plant flags at the base of a headstone at the Normandy American Cemetery in Normandy, France.

Choctaw Nation visits France

CNO honors World War I and II Choctaw veterans in France

By Christian Toews
November 1, 2023

A Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma delegation recently traveled to St. Etienne, France, to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the WWI battle that liberated the city.

Choctaw code talkers were first used during this battle, and five Choctaw soldiers were among the 336 United States soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the four-day battle.

Chief Gary Batton commented on the significance of the events at this battle during a speech at the event in St. Etienne.

“These brave, young Choctaw warriors made the ultimate sacrifice and had no idea what their futures held when they shipped out to France. Each man fought valiantly when called upon to turn back the invading German forces at the four-day Battle of Sent Etienne,” he said. “Unfortunately, these brave warriors did not make it out of that battle and are forever remembered here. We will never forget the sacrifices made by these men and their families to ensure a better life for all.”

A monument now stands at Blanc Mont near St. Etienne and remembers these soldiers.

Choctaw France Visit
Photo by Christian Toews

Sand from Normandy beaches are rubbed into the headstones to highlight the soldier during the ceremony at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France.

Chief Batton was invited to lay a wreath at the base of this monument in their honor. This monument’s sign mentions the Choctaw Code Talkers and their contribution to winning the war.

Near this monument is Hill 140, where Joseph Oklahombi and other Code Talkers first used the Choctaw language to defeat the German army during WWI.

On October 8, 1918, Oklahombi and twenty-three fellow soldiers attacked an enemy position and captured 171 prisoners. They seized the artillery at the site and killed 79 German soldiers. These men tended their wounded comrades and held their position for four days under relentless attack.

In the days leading up to the ceremony in Saint Etienne, the delegation from the Choctaw Nation was able to visit many of the critical and historic sites where Choctaw soldiers fought in WWI and WWII. Two ceremonies were held at the cemetery of Meuse Argonne and the Normandy American Cemetery, respectively.

According to the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Meuse Argonne cemetery is 130.5 acres and holds the largest number of American military dead in Europe, totaling 14,246. Most of those buried here lost their lives during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I.

While visiting the graves of the Choctaw men buried here, the story of their bravery was read aloud.

A Choctaw hymn was sung at each grave, and a prayer was said.