Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Comanche Code Talkers

Photograph from the article "Charles Chibitty: Comanche Code Talker"
posted on the U.S. Army website.
It never ceases to amaze me how much I don't know. I'm working as hard as I can to fix that, the not knowing part, but I'm afraid I'm going to run out of time. Whenever I run across some factoid that I'm not familiar with or I don't think was explained well enough, I have to run down some more information on it. Here's a perfect example from this morning: I ran across a newspaper article that caught my eye while doing an Internet search for something completely different (yep, that still happens). This article in the Lawton Constitution informed me (before I hit information cutoff and they demanded a subscription to read the rest of the article) that the annual Comanche Fair this year would be honoring the Comanche Code Talkers from World War II. In fact, if you can't make it to the fair, there is a museum exhibit dedicated to the Code Talkers that you can visit year-round at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center, in Lawton, Oklahoma.

I know what you're thinking, Comanche Code Talkers? I thought the Code Talkers were Navajo, like the movie, right? I had to do some quick research on this. Turns out, members of several tribes served as Code Talkers during both WWI and WWII. Code Talkers are soldiers who can use their native language in radio and telephone communications like a code, since to the enemy the language is so obscure they have virtually no hope of translating it. During WWI the Army started the practice using Native American soldiers of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Comanche tribes. They proved to be very effective. So much so that during the inter-war years, Adolf Hitler sent about thirty anthropologists to Oklahoma to try to learn Native American languages. They failed. The languages were too difficult and there were too many dialects.

During WWII the United States Marine Corps accelerated the program and recruited more than 400 Navajo Code Talkers. (The USMC also experimented with the Basque language, utilizing about 60 native speakers of that language.) The size of the Marines' Code Talker program and exposure in popular culture has resulted in most of us associating "Code Talkers" with the Navajo tribe. Because of Germany's attempt to learn Native American languages, the U.S. Army was hesitant to use Code Talkers in the European Theater. However, on a limited scale, the U.S. Army employed some Native American speakers against the Germans. That included recruiting from 27 Meskwaki (Fox) men from Iowa who joined the Army as a group. Eight of them eventually became Code Talkers and served in combat against the Germans in North Africa.

The United States Army also recruited seventeen Comanche Indians to serve as Code Talkers. As a further safety measure they developed a "code within a code" by coming up with over 100 code words within their own language. Fourteen of these men were assigned to the 4th Infantry Division and landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. Two of the Code Talkers were assigned to each regiment in the division and the rest were assigned to division headquarters. Their unique skills were put to work on their first day in Normandy. Although several were wounded, all of the Comanche Code Talkers survived the war.

The last Comanche Code Talker passed away in 2005. However, a grateful nation does not stop honoring these men who through their special skill and service saved untold numbers of their fellow American soldiers.

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