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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Comanche Code Talkers Honored With Congressional Medals
by Dana Attocknie, Native Times
LAWTON, OK – In the center of each table there's a delicate orange glow from a candle. Each flicker of light is reflected in the framed picture of a Comanche Code Talker that's placed on each table. The tables are dressed in red, yellow or blue cloth, and the candles are adorned with the Comanche Nation emblem.

Gathered around the tables are family members of the five Comanche Code Talkers who served in World War I and the 17 who served in World War II. The event isn't a solemn memorial. It's a homecoming ceremony, a celebration. Relatives are gathered to take home silver Congressional Medals in honor of their family's Code Talker.

The families, other Comanche tribal citizens and honored guests celebrated on Jan. 21 at the Great Plains Coliseum in Lawton.

"This is once in a lifetime that this will happen," master of ceremonies Eddie Mahseet said.

Mahseet read the names of each Code Talker, but before that everyone was treated to Comanche hymn singing and exhibitions from Comanche fancy dancers, while they ate. The meals were served to guests by Comanche citizens members and members of the Cameron University George D. Keathley Department of Military Science Comanche Battalion Army ROTC.

"We like to do a lot of volunteer work; give back," James Norris, of the battalion's Public Affairs Office, said. "We've also helped the Comanche tribe in previous years with some functions and with the color guard."

Comanche elders/sisters, Edna Pahcheka Poafpybitty, Vivian Pahcheka Holder and Virgie Pahcheka Kassanavoid sang Comanche hymns to three of the Code Talker widows in attendance. Also singing was the Cameron University choir under the direction of Kathy Scherler.

"We are very proud of the Comanche Code Talkers," Scherler said. "We are very proud of the Comanche people."

State and local politicians, military personnel and other dignitaries also attended, as well as Cheyenne and Arapaho filmmaker Chris Eyre.

"It's an honor to be here with the Comanche Nation," Eyre said. "I'd just like to say thank you to all the military people here and the Code Talkers, the Comanche Code Talkers, for their service and I'm really happy to be a part of this evening tonight."

Lanny Asepermy, a Comanche Indian Veterans Association member, provided the history of how the Code Talker Recognition Act came to be and the role Comanches played in seeing it through to fruition. He also spoke about the actions of the Code Talkers, saying they were up against machine guns, gas and hand-to-hand combat.

"These were outstanding, fantastic soldiers," Asepermy said. "You know we're all here together tonight … one, two, three, four generations. You know what those 17 men have done; they brought you together … you're here because of them. Don't forget why you're here tonight and honor their memory and their accomplishments as soldiers."

The Comanche language was used in World War I with a handful of Comanche men in the 357th Infantry Regiment of the 90th Division. However, an organized code wasn't established until World War II when 21 Comanche men were chosen for the Code Talker Program. After 17 of them enlisted in the Army they became radio operators and line repairmen for the 4th Infantry Division. While 14 of them went to fight in the European Theater, 13 of them were on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

The Comanche National Museum web site states, "When the 4th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach, they were five miles off their designated target. The first message sent from the beach was sent in Comanche from Code Talker, Private First Class Larry Saupitty. His message was ‘Tsaaku nunnuwee. Atahtu nunnuwee,' which translates to: ‘We made a good landing. We landed in the wrong place.'"

"The Germans … didn't know what they were saying, and because they did not understand the message, thousands of American lives were saved during both wars," Asepermy said. "We were sent to boarding schools, whipped and had our mouth washed out with soap if we talked our language. Then they turned around and they used us and that's good because it helped maintain our freedom … Thank you Comanche Code Talker families. Thank you."

The Comanche code was never broken and the work of the Code Talkers remained a secret for years. The 14 Comanche Code Talkers who served oversees were inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame posthumously on Nov. 11, 2011. On Nov. 20, 2013, Code Talkers from 33 tribes were recognized with Congressional Gold Medals at Emancipation Hall inside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

On Jan. 21, the Congressional Silver Medals were given to the Comanche Code Talker families by Comanche Nation Chairman Wallace Coffey and Comanche Business Committee members.

"Oh my goodness. I can't describe it. This is the greatest honor that me and my children have…they're finally getting their medals and we're just so proud," Bessie Becky Wahnee, widow of Pvt. Ralph Wahnee who served in WWII, said.

Wahnee said she could hardly express her appreciation and what this all means to her. Along with Wahnee there were two other Code Talker widow's present – Irene Permansu Lane, widow of Sgt. Melvin Permansu who served in WWII, and Ina Parker, widow of T/5 Simmons Parker who served in WWII.

Mamie Nava, daughter of Pvt. Samuel Tabbytosavit, made it to the Comanche ceremony, as well as to the Washington, D.C. ceremony.

"I pulled out of a hospital bed to be here and I'm not supposed to really be out," Nava said. "The only thing about it is I wanted to make sure my sister was with me. I wished that she would have been here."

Nava's sister, Ida Lee Valdez, died late in 2013. Their father served in WWI.

Elvira Lanker, granddaughter of T/4 Morris Tabbyetchy who served in WWII, came from Los Angeles with her husband and their five children.

"I never got a chance to meet my grandfather, and my mother, she told me stories here and there, and I just learned in October that he was a Code Talker and I've been doing so much research on him," Lanker said. "It's amazing to me and it's such an honor to be here. I'm just taking it in, any kind of information I can get. I'm just soaking it all up and learning about the whole experience. It's just beautiful. It means just so much to me."

Lanker said they planned on visiting the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center the next day to see the "Comanche Code of Honor" exhibit featuring the Comanche Code Talkers.

In addition to the medal, male recipients were given a vest and women recipients were given long wraps with the name of their family's Code Talker embroidered on the back. A video of the Washington, D.C., ceremony was also shown.

Code Talker families from the Kiowa Tribe were also recognized, and some special guests received a "Standing Strong" Pendleton blanket. The custom blanket was designed by Oklahoma artist Joseph Chamberlain to honor service members.

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