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Navajo Code Talkers Recognized

Navajo Code Talkers Recognized
June 27
11:21 2022

By John Christian Hopkins

John Tohtsoni, a Chilocco Alumunus, and Army Veteran returns to his old school, Chilocco Indian School for the annual reunion. Photo provided by John Christian Hopkins.

The Chilocco Indian Boarding School, in New Kirk, Okla., has had many graduates that have gone on to distinguish themselves in various ways, since it opened in 1884: Wes Studi became an award-winning actor, Mitchell Cypress became chairman of Florida’s Seminole Tribe and Moses “Chief” Yellow Horse became the first full-blooded Native American to play Major League baseball.

But it was only recently that that the school’s National Alumni Association realized that among their graduates were 10 of the famous Navajo Code Talkers, along with one former employee, outgoing alumni president Jim Baker said during a Veterans Breakfast at the former school’s annual reunion in June.

The 2022 reunion was the first since the COVID pandemic exploded in 2020.

“Since then, we have lost 52 veterans,” Baker said.

 Some of the Chilocco graduates served as code talkers, others served during the war before enrolling in the school, he explained.

“Today I want to talk about the Code Talkers,” Baker said. “The (other students) did not know their classmates were Code Talkers.”

The Code Talker program was a carefully guarded federal secret and little was known about the valiant heroes until the 1980s, when they were officially recognized by President Ronald Reagan.

The code talker program began near the end of World War I, but the end of the “War to End All Wars” in 1919 brought an end to the program.

It was revived during World War II.

Although the Navajos are the most famous, several other tribes – including the Choctaw, Ponca and Comanche – also used their languages to create an unbreakable code that proved pivotal during the war, Baker said.

Several years ago, Zonnie Gorman brought it to his attention, Baker added.

Code Talker Award given to Chilocco graduates. Photo provided by John Christian Hopkins.

“That’s when I realized our tribal members did a lot for our country,” Baker said.

Charles L. McDonald, a member of the Ponca tribe, said the tribe’s cemetery at White Eagle has a monument honoring one of their Code Talkers, William T. Snake.

“I thank him and his family for his service,” McDonald said.

Baker said Gorman provided with a list to confirm the 11 Chilocco Code Talkers.

The list of Navajo Code Talkers among former Chilocco students include: Samuel Hosteen Begay (one of the original 29 Code Talkers), Harry Roanhorse, Clare Johnson, Benjamin Sorrell, Kenneth Williams, John Goodluck, Collins D. Tsosie, Edward Leupp, Keith Little and George Paul James (who joined the Marines at 17). The former Chilocco employee who was a Code Talker was Willsie Bitsi (one of the original 29).

They were awarded special awards on behalf of the Chilocco National Alumni Association.

Baker said the first Code Talker he ever met was Sam Billison.

“I was a graduate student at Penn State,” he recalled. “Hopefully, this country will wake up and do more to recognize the Navajo Code Talkers.”

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