- Written by John Plestina
The first photo is is Barbara Hamilton, a veteran, accepting two of the 49 Congressional Gold Medals from Fort Peck Tribes Chairman A.T. Rusty Stafne on behalf of two deceased relatives who served as code talkers during World War II; Matt Adams and Charles Adams. The second photo is Keith Bear of New Town, N.D., a Vietnam veteran, holding the medal he accepted on behalf of his late father, Everett Bear. The other photos are from the grand entry and of traditional music. (Photos by John Plestina)
Wartime heroes who were sworn to a lifetime of secrecy and not given the full extent of the welcome they deserved when they returned home nearly 70 years ago were honored posthumously during a ceremony in Poplar’s American Legion Park, Saturday, May 31, the traditional date of Memorial Day.
Forty-eight enrolled members of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation have been identified as World War II code talkers, soldiers who used their native languages as a means of wartime secret communication that enemies could not decode. The U.S. Department of Defense has estimated that the service of code talkers shortened the length of World War II by two years and saved an unknown number of American lives.
All of the local code talkers are now deceased. They were each awarded a Congressional Silver Medal. Fort Peck Tribes Chairman A.T. Rusty Stafne presented the medals to families of the veterans.
The silver medals that were awarded in Poplar were part of the presentation of more than 200 medals to the few surviving code talkers and families of those deceased in all parts of the country.
So far, efforts to identify all code talkers and locate their families continue. It is believed there were about 400 who served during World War II. About one-eighth of all code talkers hailed from the Wolf Point and Poplar areas.
The existence of code talkers from tribes other than Navajo remained classified for 63 years following the end of the second world war until Congress passed the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008, and then President George W. Bush signed it into law.
The reason given for keeping the existence of code talkers from numerous tribes secret is that the military did not want any potential future enemy to know what languages were used.
The service of Navajo code talkers was featured in films long ago. President George W. Bush awarded medals to Navajo code talkers at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in 2001.
The 2008 legislation also authorized the United States Mint to strike a Congressional Gold Medal for each tribe and the silver duplicate medals that were presented to the families of the code talkers. Duplicate bronze replica medals are available from the U.S. Mint online catalog at http://www.usmint.gov.catalog.
The Assiniboine and Sioux are among 33 Native American Tribes the U.S. D.O.D. has identified since 2008 that are eligible to receive a gold medal with a unique design. Twenty-five of the tribes were honored during a ceremony, held in Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center., Nov. 20, 2013.
“It’s an honor for your father, uncle, grandfather who participated in a war many years ago, who used his native tongue to win the war,” said Stafne, a Korean War veteran.
Then he reminded the crowd that the U.S. government forced those men as children to go away to boarding schools and tried to eradicate their native languages.
“They found out it helped win a war using their native languages,” Stafne said.
Jeff Berger, who has worked to identify local code talkers for the Fort Peck Tribes, said a lot of hard work went into research for the project.
He said there are more to be identified.
The earliest reported use of code talkers by the U.S. military dates to 1918 when the Army used Choctaw Indians to baffle the Germans some 95 years ago during World War I.
The next recorded use of code talkers came when the Marine Corps recruited Navajos to serve in the Pacific during World War II. Also during the second world war, Comanches developed a secret language-based code for the Army. Members of other tribes, including Assiniboine and Sioux, were assigned to native language communication duty.
Code Talkers from the Fort Peck Reservation were members of Company B, 163rd Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Division.
Members of the Fort Peck Tribes acknowledged as code talkers who are identified as members of the Assiniboine Tribe are identified as Jesse Mason Jr., Charles Adams, Matt D. Adams, Joseph R. Alverez, Archie M. Cantrell, Joseph Hamilton, Adam Redd, Lawrence Red Dog, Jay H. Kirn, Duncan Dupree and John Cantrell.
Identified as Sioux are Anton Hollow, Joseph O. Reddoor, Herman Red Elk Jr., Clyde Standing Bear, Herman Belgarde, Arthur Belgarde, Dominick Belgarde, James J. Eder, James M. Melbourne Jr., Shirley Q. Red Boy, James Black Dog Jr., Matthew E. Black Dog, Lloyd Half Red, William Hawk, Earl Jones, Frank Jones, Ralph N. Jones, Barney Lambert, Louis E. Longee, Mark Long Tree, Raymond L. Ogle, William G. Ogle, Gerald Red Elk, William J. Red Fox, Joseph E. Russell, Gregory B. Swift Eagle, Winfield Wilson, James T. Yellow Owl, Douglas Young Man, Everett D. Bear, Richard Left Hand Thunder, Ben Little Head, Archie Red Boy, Fred R. Shields, Joseph Lambert, Harvey Buck Elk and Julian Shields.
A 49th medal was awarded to Gilbert Horn, Sr., of Havre, an Assiniboine member of the Fort Beknap Reservation. He is the only one of the medal recipients during the Poplar ceremony who is living and one of few code talkers across the nation who is alive. He was not able to attend.
There were medals for North Dakota code talkers who were attached to Company B.
The Fort Peck Tribes hosted a feed and traditional Powwow following the ceremony.
The names of any code talkers are sought who might have been overlooked. Anyone with information should contact the Fort Peck Tribes.