During World Wars I and II, the United States military used select Native American service men to relay secret battle messages based on words from their native languages. These groups came to be known as “Code Talkers” and were the unsung heroes of those world wars. The Comanche Code Talkers were pledged to secrecy about their work in World Wars I and II, and they kept that secret until the program was declassified.
The Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center recently opened an exhibit on the Comanche CodeTalkers. Phyllis Waharockah-Tasi is the Executive Director of the museum. She said the exhibit is a way to honor and educate the public about these often unknown heroes.
“These 17 men went to training in Fort Gordon, Georgia and during this training they developed their own code,” Waharockah-Tasi said. “One of the code talkers stated in their memoir, they heard that they were going to go across the big pond. Well that eventually did come true and they landed on Utah Beach.”
“Thirteen of the code talkers landed on Utah Beach and it was Larry Saupitty that transmitted the first code. After that first code was transmitted they continued to move throughout Europe.” Back home, their families didn’t know what they were doing.
“There was one family that I contacted, probably about five years ago as we began doing research on the Comanche Code Talkers,” Wahahrockah-Tasi said. “It broke my heart to hear her say she didn’t know her father was a Code Talker until he had passed on. So that was very disheartening for me to hear that. So we sent her Bill Meadows’ books on the Comanche Code Talkers, giving her a little bit of an opportunity for her to learn about these heroic works that her father contributed in.”
“It was a great honor to be able to talk with her and all the descendants of the Code Talkers,” Waharockah-Tasi said. “The opening we had here had over 1100 people attend a two hour opening.”
The gathering took place in the McMahon auditorium and included descendants of the code talkers, their immediate family members, siblings and two spouses of Comanche code talkers .
One of the items that debuted at the exhibit was Larry Saupitty’s journal about their training.
“We developed a 15 minute production piece that highlighted some of those memories,” Waharockah-Tasi said. “I can tell you that the response that I received from the families was that it brought tears, to hear about their loved ones that have passed on, to hear what they were training for, what they were preparing for and this has never been seen anywhere before except here at the Comanche National Museum.”
In the works is a room to show the film for the duration of the exhibit. Waharockah-Tasi was quick to say that they do have an “interactive.”
“Inside the gallery is an interactive and it takes you back on what it would have been like to be a Comanche Code talker in World War II. That’s a unique interactive, we utilized the people here, we utilized our archives on what some of the word’s the Code Talkers used. And a lot of the research was coming from specifically Charles Chibitty and some of the works in the archives that we have, the words. But it’s a two minute interactive that you’re able to come into the gallery and see.”
The Navajo and Choctaw Code Talkers have received recognition for their contribution in the form of Congressional Medals of Honor. Now the Comanche Code Talkers are set to receive their due.
“Yes, that’s still in the works and it’s my understanding that it supposed to be later this fall. Comanche Nation Chairman Wallace Coffey mentioned that that it was going to be in the months to come,” Waharockah-Tasi said.
The tribe plans on taking the descendants of the Comanche Code Talkers up to Washington, D.C. by charter bus. The exact date still has to be determined.
The Comanche Code Talkers exhibit will be on display through August 2014 in the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center in Lawton, Oklahoma.
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