Code Talkers of World War One

During World War Two (early 1940s), an important group who assisted in defeating Germany and Japan was the Navajo Indians who served as code talkers.

What most people do not know there were Native Indians – used as code breakers during World War One (1917-1919). These Native Americans – Choctaw Indians many of them came from Texas and Oklahoma used their indigenous language to ensure messages would be encoded in a way that Europeans had zero access to. And, since it was an ancient language it was many times harder to crack than an invented code. The Germans, in turn, were so confused that they thought the US forces had invented a machine to talk underwater and then decode it.

There were 19 Choctaw men used as code talkers and placed on the front lines in order to quickly convey messages during the heat of battle. The idea was born when some of these men were overheard by a commanding officer speaking in their native language and it was only after that incident that it was suggested they use Choctaw as a way to “encode” messages. The ironic thing is that during this era many Indian schools were set up across the US where speaking in native languages and following native customs was harshly punished. Under this system children were forcibly sent to boarding schools where they were to be assimilated.

They were undervalued and underserved Native Americans who had been under the laws of the US, (Native Americans were not granted US citizenship until 1924, with some states withholding their rights to vote until the 1950s), but some 12,000 Native Americans did joined up during WWI to patriotically fight for their country anyways.

One of the advantages of the Choctaw talkers was not only that the Germans, who were inevitably hearing it all, would have no knowledge of the language. The other main advantage was that unlike devised codes that took lots of time to draft, Choctaw talkersneeded very little preparation time since they were simply speaking their first language.

At first, with no direct translations in Choctaw for equipment and military terms, the phrase for machine gun was a “little gun that shoots fast” and “big gun” was used to mean artillery. Minor coding of the terms made this easier but also created a sort of “code within a code” that the Germans found utterly baffling. They had no idea what to make of the messages. Not just Choctaw speakers for code but also Cherokee, Cheyenne, Comanche, Osage, and Yankton Sioux were used.

The Choctaw were communications specialists. Their job was to send coded messages about troop movements, enemy positions, and other critical information on the battlefield. Some Code Talkers translated messages into their Native languages and relayed them to another tribal member.

Even after World War One, many Choctaws served during World War Two, Korea and Vietnam War using the Native language as a code talker / breaker.

In recent years, there has been regconition of the Choctaw and the Navajo Indians for their contributions. In 2008, a Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the tribe and a silver medal to the families. The U. S. Army Choctaws Code Talkers were inducted to the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2012.

These first code talkers, served from the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division and titled “Title One Code Talkers”. Any Choctaws in your family tree, you may want to further investigate any tie in for your heritage.

Photo: Some of the Choctaw who served as Code Talkers during World War One.

Related Blogs:

Native Indian Ancestors

Native American Indians

Oklahoma and Indian Records

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