Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Choctaw code talkers

Choctaw code talkers were a group of Choctaw Indians from Oklahoma who pioneered the use of Native American languages as military code.
Their exploits took place during the waning days of World War I. The government of the Choctaw Nation maintains these men comprised the first code talkers ever to serve in the U.S. military.

Origin of code talking
Code talking, the practice of using complex Native American languages for use as military code by American armed forces, got its start during World War I.

German forces proved to be masterful breakers of American military code, and were believed by U.S. army officers, generally accurately, to be intercepting and decoding every code in use.

An American officer, Colonel A.W. Bloor, noticed a number of American Indians serving with him in the 142nd Infantry in France. Overhearing two Choctaw Indians speaking with one another, he devised a plan. With the active cooperation of his Choctaw soldiers, he tested and deployed an innovative experiment, using the Choctaw language in place of regular military code.

The first combat test took place on October 26, 1918 when Colonel Bloor ordered a "delicate" withdrawal of two companies of the 2nd Battalion, from Chufilly to Chardeny. The movement was successful.

"The enemy's complete surprise is evidence that he could not decipher the messages", Bloor observed. A captured German officer confirmed they were "completely confused by the Indian language and gained no benefit whatsoever" from their wiretaps.

Full use of the Choctaw language as military code involved speaking the language by telephone. Choctaws were placed in each company of soldiers to send or transmit it. Runners were also employed to extend the system as necessary.

Colonel Bloor, in a post-war memo, expressed his pleasure and satisfaction. "We were confident the possibilities of the telephone had been obtained without its hazards", he noted. He noted, however, that the Choctaw tongue, by itself, was unable to fully express the military terminology then in use.

No Choctaw word or phrase existed to describe "machine gun", as example. The Choctaws improvised successfully, using their words for "big gun" to describe "artillery" and "little gun shoot fast" for "machine gun". "The results were very gratifying," Bloor concluded.

Belated recognition
Little was said or written of the code talkers after World War I. The earliest known mention of them in the media appears to have been 1928, when an Oklahoma City newspaper described their unusual activities.

The Choctaw Code Talkers themselves appear not to have referred to themselves as such. The phrase was not coined until during or after World War II. In describing their wartime activities to family members, at least one member of the group, Tobias W. Frazier, always used the phrase, "talking on the radio", by which he meant field telephone.

During recent decades Hollywood has "discovered" code talkers, but not the Choctaw code talkers. Navajo code talkers during World War II became the subject of movies, documentaries, and books. The Navajo, with their history of opposing the United States in war, has proven in almost all respects a more popular subject than the quiet, orderly, agrarian Choctaw Indians, who adopted an American-style constitution and government, complete with elections and separation of powers, in the early 19th century.

The Choctaw government awarded the code talkers posthumous Choctaw Medals of Valor at a special ceremony in 1986. France followed suit in 1989, awarding them the Fifth Republic's Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Merite (Knight of the National Order of Merit).

In 1995 the Choctaw War Memorial was erected at the Choctaw Capitol Building in Tuskahoma, Oklahoma. It includes a huge section of granite dedicated to the Choctaw Code Talkers.

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