SEMINOLE, Okla. – Everyone rises as the first note of a Seminole hymn fills the chapel. Soon after, an American flag is gently rolled back to the middle of the casket, so the top can be opened and a hero revealed.
Friends and family have gathered to pay respect and say their final goodbye to Edmond Andrew Harjo, 96, who died on March 31, at Mercy Hospital of Ada. Harjo was the last surviving Code Talker for the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. His funeral was held on April 4, at Swearingen Funeral Home Chapel in Seminole, and he was laid to rest at the Seminole Nation Veterans Memorial Cemetery, in Seminole.
Yellow, red, pink and purple sprays of flowers flanked each side of Harjo, and a video screen in the middle of the chapel allowed everyone in the filled pews to watch a portion of the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony that took place on Nov. 20, 2013 in Washington, D.C. The ceremony honored Code Talkers from 33 tribes. Harjo attended the ceremony and was recognized for his dedication and valor as a World War II Code Talker. He was the only living Code Talker to attend.
During the video, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Harjo and his brothers were at Normandy and Iwo Jima, and they mobilized the simplest weapon, which was language.
The video shown during his funeral also showcased Harjo sitting in front of a memorial water fountain in his wheelchair and telling of the time he served in the Army as a private first class. He recalled some of his time in Germany and described what he saw and the villages he traveled through. The unit he served with was Battery “A” 195th Field Artillery Battalion. He received a Good Conduct Medal, and a European-African-Middle Eastern (EAME) Campaign service Ribbon with one Silver Service Star for his service as a Code Talker. The Seminole Nation is the recipient of the gold medal for his service.
“Edmond Andrew and his brother were conversing in their first language with each other and they were overheard by their commander,” the Rev. Dr. Eugene Wilson, said during Harjo’s service. “The language was used as military code, not just to enable war but … sustain peace.”
Rick Harjo said another solider caught Harjo’s attention when he overheard the soldier singing in their Native language. That encounter eventually led to their service as Code Talkers.
A picture of Harjo in front of the U.S. Capitol remained on the video screen throughout the service, while shared memories of him ignited smiles, shared laughter eased the heartache, and shared song provided comfort.
“He’d sit there and tickle that ivory ... It was beautiful, very beautiful,” Rick Harjo recalled. “I enjoyed listening to him play the piano and how he played Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.”
Harjo also played the piano in some gospel quartets and at the nutrition center in Maud. He studied composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Pyotr Iiyich Tchaikovsky.
“Andrew said often that his first love was music and the piano,” Rick Harjo said.
Harjo was born on Nov. 24, 1917, on the original allotted land in Maud that belonged to his mother, the late Yanna (Grant) Harjo. His father is the late Tony Harjo.
Harjo graduated from Seminole High School and earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Oklahoma City University. He became a school teacher and taught at Maud Schools, at Justice Schools and at Pickett Center. He was also well versed on the Seminole Trail of Tears, and has been heard saying, “Speak your language, you may lose it.”
Not long before his uncle died, Rick Harjo said a language lesson was shared between them. They were exchanging what came to be some of their last words together when Harjo hushed his nephew from speaking by saying “Shhh.” Harjo and his nephew were speaking in their Native tongue when Rick began to translate their conversation to his family. Harjo said he didn’t want to hear the translation and reminded his nephew that when they speak their Native language to each other, its true intent is delivered. But, once words are translated the truth isn’t told; it’s contaminated and the strength in the words is lost.
Rick Harjo then shared the last moments he had with his uncle, and choked up when he recalled one of his uncle’s favorite songs, “The Little Church in the Wildwood.” That song was sung to Harjo for the last time during his service.
Edmond Harjo holds his Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington on November 20, 2013.