THEY SERVED ~ THEY SACRIFICED ~ 19 young Choctaw soldiers ~ the first to use their native language to confuse the enemy, making a marked difference in the outcome of World War I
Pictures provided in header Courtesy of Mathers Museum, Indiana University and below Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society Photo Archives.
It has been more than 90 years since the Choctaws of WWI volunteered their service to the United States and joined the Army to travel across the ocean to foreign land. Some of the Choctaw men were over-heard speaking their Native language in the midst of battlefields in France and an officer immediately had a brainstorm. Training the Choctaws to use their words as “code," they were placed strategically on front lines and at command posts so that messages could be transmitted without being understood by the enemy. Nineteen Choctaw men have been documented as being the first to use their own language as a “code” to transmit military messages. During the first world war, with the tapping of the American Army’s phone lines, the Germans were able to learn the location of where the Allied Forces were stationed, as well as where supplies were kept. When the Choctaw men were put on the phones and talked in their Native speech, the Germans couldn’t effectively spy on the transmissions. Native Americans did not receive nationwide citizenship until 1924, yet the Choctaws were both patriotic and valiant, with a desire to serve in the war effort. Many Choctaw men volunteered in WWI to fight for our country. Choctaw Code Talkers of WWI were instrumental in ending war. Members of Choctaw and other Tribal Nations also served with distinction using Native languages in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Among these brave warriors were the famed Wind Talkers of the Navajo Tribe in World War II, who were deserving of the Gold Medal they received from Congress in the year 2000. Legislation was passed in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to award the Choctaws, Comanches and other Indian soldiers who were Code Talkers a Gold Medal. Support and co-sponsorship was requested of all of the Congress The law was signed in 2008 by the President. Stories passed down through families and newspapers share odds and ends of the private lives of some of the Choctaw Code-Talkers. Victor Brown received a citation from President Wilson after being wounded and gassed with mustard gas. He was proud of “fooling the Germans” with the Choctaw language, and was pleased to have served in France. According to his daughter, Napanee Brown Coffman, Victor Brown was one-fourth French and three-quarters Choctaw. After the First World War, Brown became an auditor in the IRS and during WWII was a Deputy State Examiner and Inspector for the State of Oklahoma.
James Edwards was a member of the Choctaw language “relay team” for messages, and also helped work out the code words to use in the transmissions. “Twice big group” in Choctaw was used for battalion, “eight group” was a squad, “scalps” were casualties, “fast shooting gun” meant machine gun and “big gun” was field artillery. Otis Leader is one of the most notable heroes of WWI. He was 34 when he joined the Army. He and his Swiss employer from his job on a ranch near Allen, Oklahoma, went on a cattle-buying trip to Fort Worth. The Swiss accent of Leader’s employer, combined with the tall, dark looks of the 34-year-old resulted in the mistaken pegging of them as a German spy and his Spaniard companion. This mistaken identity infuriated Leader so much he immediately went to the nearest recruiting office and signed up. Solomon Louis was actually underage when he entered the armed services. This young Bryan County Choctaw attended Armstrong Academy and when his older friends enlisted, Louis pretended to be 18 so that he, too, could join. Walter Veach was given the charge to put together an all-Indian company in the 36th division during World War I. Prior to the war, Veach served in the Na-tional Guard on the border between the United States and Mexico. His company had a major hand in stop-ping the Pancho Villa invasion of Texas. Tobias Frazier was among the Choctaw men who helped break the Hindenberg line in 1918. Other WWI Choctaw Code Talkers were Robert Taylor, Jeff Nelson, Calvin Wilson, Mitchell Bobb, Pete Maytubby, Ben Carterby, Albert Billy, Ben Hampton, Joseph Oklahombi, Joe Davenport, George Davenport, Ben Colbert and Noel Johnson. One of the WWII Choctaw Code Talkers, Schlicht Billy, was in the 180th and participated in the land-ing of Anzio, liberation of Rome and invasion of southern France. Schlicht Billy participated in an event held November 3, 1989, at the Oklahoma State Capitol when the government of France presented the Choctaw Nation the “Chevalier de l’Order Na-tional du Merite” in recognition of the important role of the Code Talkers. Other Choctaw CodeTalkers in WWII were Andrew Perry, Davis Pickens and Forreston T. Baker.