July 25, 2014

Iowa ‘code talkers’ to get recognition in Washington, D.C.

About 250 Native American “code talkers” who were an important weapon during World War Two will be recognized for their valor during a U.S. Capitol ceremony Wednesday. Members of more than 30 tribes will be presented with medals, including members of Iowa’s Meskwaki tribe.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley plans to attend the Washington D.C. ceremony, which he says is long overdue. Grassley says: “The bottom line of it is that they ought to get this recognition.” The code talkers used their Native American languages to secretly communicate key military information during the war. America’s enemies could not decode the radio transmissions, which many credit with saving countless U.S. service members’ lives and bringing a faster end to the war.

The code talkers were sworn to secrecy and got no recognition after the war, as the operation wasn’t declassified until 1968. Some members of the Navajo tribe were honored with medals in 2001. “And then it was later acknowledged that a lot of other tribes used their languages to communicate between Americans in the war effort by using their native language which, obviously, the Germans and Japanese didn’t understand,” Grassley says.

Wednesday’s ceremony will honor members of 33 tribes, including the Meskwaki, who weren’t previously included. Senator Grassley co-sponsored the legislation, enacted into law in 2008, that authorized Congress to present the silver and gold medals to the Native American code talkers. “I sponsored it to make sure that they got the recognition they deserved,” Grassley says. “Why they were overlooked, I don’t know the history of that. In fact, it’s kind of an embarrassment. There’s been previous recognitions going back just a few years that brings attention to their contribution to the victory.”

The medals will be presented to the individual code talkers or to family members of those who have died. One report says 27 members of the Meskwaki tribe, which then represented 16-percent of Iowa’s Meskwaki population, enlisted in the U.S. Army together early in World War Two. The U.S. military also used Native American code talkers in World War One, with reports dating back to October of 1918.