Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
June 3, 2000-Issue 11

Code Talkers
by Vicki Lockard from various sources

Choctaw Code Talkers:

In the closing days of World War I, fourteen Choctaw Indian men in the Army's Thirty-Sixth Division, trained to use their language, helped the American Expeditionary Force win several key battles in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France, the final big German push of the war. The fourteen Choctaw Code Talkers were Albert Billy, Mitchell Bobb, Victor Brown, Ben Caterby, James Edwards, Tobias Frazer, Ben Hampton, Solomon Louis, Pete Maytubby, Jeff Nelson, Joseph Oklahombi, Robert Taylor, Calvin Wilson, and Walter Veach.

With at least one Choctaw man placed in each field company headquarters, they handled military communications by field telephone, translated radio messages into the Choctaw language, and wrote field orders to be carried by "runners" between the various companies. The German army, which captured about one out of four messengers, never deciphered the messages written in Choctaw.

A January 23, 1919, memorandum from the commanding officer of the 142nd Infantry headquarters to the commanding general of the Thirty-Sixth Division revealed some of the code: "The Indian for 'Big Gun' was used to indicate artillery. 'Little Gun shoot fast' was substituted for machine gun, and the battalions were indicated by one, two, or three grains of corn."

The Choctaws were recognized as the first to use their native language as an unbreakable code in World War I. The Choctaw language was again used in World War II. Choctaws conversed in their language over field radios to coordinate military positions, giving exact details and locations without fear of German interception.

During the annual Choctaw Labor Day Festival in 1986, Chief Hollis E. Roberts presented posthumous Choctaw Nation Medals of Valor to the families of the Code Talkers. This was the first official recognition the Choctaw Code Talkers had been given. On November 3, 1989, in recognition of the important role the Choctaw Code Talkers played during World War I, the French government presented Chief Roberts with the "Chevalier de L'Ordre National du Merite" (the Knight of the National Order of Merit), the highest honor France can bestow.

Comanche Code Talkers:

After induction into the army, seventeen Comanche men were selected for the Signal Corps because of their unique language. The Comanche Signal Corp included Charles Chibitty, Haddon Codynah, Robert Holder, Forrest Kassanavoid, Wellington Mihecoby, Edward Nahquaddy, Perry Noyabad, Clifford Otitovo, Simmons Parker, Melvin Permansu, Elhin Red Elk, Roderick Red Elk, Larry Saupitty, Morris (Sunrise) Tabbyetchy, Tony Tabbytite, Ralph Wahnee, and Willie Yackeschi. Trained in all phases of communication, these members of the army's Fourth Signal Division used the Comanche language to relay important messages that could not be understood or decoded by the enemy during World War II. The Comanche phrase posah-tai-vo meaning "crazy white man" was used for Adolph Hitler. Since the Comanches had a word for airplane but not for bomber, the Code Talkers came up with the comanche phrase for "pregnant airplane."

Along with the 16 other Comanche Indians, Charles Chibitty was part of the Army's 4th Signal Company, also known as the Code Talkers. Like the Choctaws of World War I, and the Navajos in the Pacific Theater, the Comanche Code Talkers used their native language to prevent the enemies of the European Theater from intercepting messages of the allied troops during World War II. The unit was instrumental during the Normandy invasion.

Chibitty was born near Medicine Park, Okla. on Nov. 20, 1921. After attending Haskell Indian School at Lawrence, Kan., he enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1941. While in the Army, Cpl. Chibitty earned the World War II Victory Medal, the European Theater of Operations (5th Bronze Star) Victory Medal, the Europe African Middle East Campaign Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. In addition to his role as a Code Talker, Chibitty was a champion boxer in the Army.

Charles Chihitty and Earnest Childers, 1st Native American Medal of Honor winner.

In 1989, the French Government honored the Comanche Code Talkers, including Chibitty, by presenting them the "Chevalier of the National Order of Merit." In 1992, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney presented Chibitty a certificate of appreciation for his service to the country. Chibitty has also received a special proclamation from the Governor of Oklahoma who honored him for his contribution both to Oklahoma and the United States. Nationally known for his Indian championship dancing, he currently resides in Tulsa, Okla.

Navajo Code Talkers:

The Navajo code played a crucial role in the U.S. victory in the Pacific during World War II. Breaking codes as fast as they were worked out, Japanese cryptographers never broke the code based on Navajo, virtually an unwritten language in 1942. The idea originated with Philip Johnston, an engineer raised on the Navajo Reservation where his father had been a missionary. Worried about U.S. military setbacks because of communication leaks, and confident that few people in the world understood the complex syntax and tonal qualities of Navajo, he suggested that the marines use the language as the basis for a code. One word, spoken in four different alterations in pitch or tone of voice, had four different meanings. After staging a demonstration in which several Navajo friends transmitted English into Navajo and back into English, the Marine Corps authorized an official program to develop and implement the code. Twenty-nine Navajos fluent in Navajo and English, some only fifteen years old, constructed and mastered the Navajo code, which they transmitted in simulated battles. Twenty-seven Code Talkers were shipped to Guadalcanal, while two remained behind to train more Code Talkers.

The Code Talkers devised an alphabet to spell out words for which no code terms could be devised. They used words, many taken from nature, that had logical associations with military terms and names of places. Thus, the code word for observation plane became ne-ahs-jah, or "owl" in Navajo; besh-lo or "iron fish' was the word for submarine. The Navajo word for potato meant grenade and a whale signified a battleship. The Navajo word for America (Ne-he- mah) meant "our mother' and clan names were used for military units. By the end of the war, 411 terms baffled Japanese cryptographers who were unable to decipher a single syllable from thousands of transmitted messages.

Eventually, some 400 Navajos served in the Code Talker program. Assigned to the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Divisions of the U.S. Marines, they served in many campaigns in the Pacific theater, usually in two-men teams conversing by field telephone and walkie-talkie to call in air strikes and artillery bombardments, direct troop movements, report enemy locations, direct fire from American positions, and transmit sensitive military information. At Iwo Jima, the Code Talkers immortalized themselves. To capture the island, the entire military operation was directed by orders communicated by the Navajo Code Talkers. During the first forty-eight hours, while the marines landed and consolidated their shore positions, six Navajo radio nets operated around the clock. They sent and received more than 800 messages without error. When the marines raised the flag on Mount Suribachi, the Code Talkers relayed the message in the Navajo code: "sheep-uncle-ram-ice-bear-ant-cat-horse-itch."

In 1992, the Pentagon honored the Navajo Code Talkers with an exhibit that documents the history of the code. Back in the Gallup-McKinley Chamber of Commerce, a "permanent home" houses historic photos, posters, trophies, radios, and other valuable items. Phoenix, Arizona boasts the nation's first permanent tribute to the Code Talkers, a fourteen-foot sculpture by Doug Hyde, of a young indian boy holding a flute in his hand. Called on to participate in public ceremonies and parades country-wide, the Navajo Code Talkers have been honored in books, films, curriculum materials, and by a beautiful recording "Code Talkers" sung by Vincent Craig, the son of Bob Craig, a Code Talker in the Marine Fifth Division.

Navajo words and their English letter equivalents

A (Wol-La Chee) - Ant
(Be-La-Sana) - Apple
(Tse-Nill) - Axe
B (Na-Hash-Chid) - Badger
(Shush) - Bear
(Toish-Jeh) - Barrel
C (Moasi) - Cat
(Tla-Gin) - Coal
(Ba-Goshi) - Cow
D (Be) - Deer
(Chindi) - Devil
(Lha-Cha-Eh) - Dog
E (Ah-Jah) - Ear
(Dzeh) - Elk
(Ah-Nah) - Eye
F (Chuo) - Fir
(Tsa-E-Donin-Ee) - Fly
(Ma-E) - Fox
G (Ah-Tad) - Girl
(Klizzie) - Goat
(Jeha) - Gum
H (Tse-Gah) - Hair
(Cha) - Hat
(Lin) - Horse
I (Tkin) - Ice
(Yeh-Hes) - Itch
(A-Chi) - Intestine
J (Tkele-Cho-Gi) - Jackass
(Ah-Ya-Tsinne) - Jaw
(Yil-Doi) - Jerk
K (Jad-Ho-Loni) - Kettle
(Ba-Ha-Ne-Di-Tinin) - Key
(Klizzie-Yazzie) - Kid
L (Dibeh-Yazzie) - Lamb
(Ah-Jad) - Leg
(Nash-Doie-Tso) - Lion
M (Tsin-Tliti) - Match
(Be-Tas-Tni) - Mirror
(Na-As-Tso-Si) - Mouse
N (Tsah) - Needle
(A-Chin) - Nose
(Nesh-Chee) - Nut
O (A-Kha) - Oil
(Tlo-Chin) - Onion
(Ne-Ahs-Jah) - Owl
P (Cla-Gi-Aih) - Pant
(Bi-So-Dih) - Pig
(Ne-Zhoni) - Pretty
Q (Ca-Yeilth) - Quiver R (Gah) - Rabbit
(Dah-Nes-Tsa) - Ram
(Ah-Losz) - Rice
S (Dibeh) - Sheep
(Klesh) - Snake
T (D-Ah) - Tea
(A-Woh) - Tooth
(Than-Zie) - Turkey
U (Shi-Da) - Uncle
(No-Da-Ih) - Ute
V (A-Keh-Di-Glini) - Victor W (Gloe-Ih) - Weasel X (Al-Na-As-Dzoh) - Cross
Y (Tsah-Ah-Dzoh) - Yucca Z (Besh-Do-Tliz) - Zin    

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