January 22, 2017

Comanche Code Talkers history shared through global airwaves

LAWTON, Okla.  – Through the occasional CB radio static, Tyler Robinson of the Viking Radio Club is thanked by people from around the world.

Robinson volunteered his Saturday on May 11 to share the history of the Comanche Code Talkers from World Wars I and II. The Viking Radio Club is an amateur radio (Ham) club from Eisenhower Middle School. Robinson had help from his grandfather Bill Burns that day, who is also a Ham radio operator.

Members of the Viking Radio Club and The Lawton Fort-Sill Amateur Radio Club (W5KS) connected with fellow Ham radio operators worldwide. W5KS initiated the “Special Events Station,” and set up a mobile unit from May 8 to 11 on the back patio of the Comanche Nation Museum and Cultural Center (CNMCC).

“We immediately recognized the Special Event Station as an excellent educational opportunity so we were more than happy to assist with this project,” Phyllis Wahahrockah-Tasi, CNMCC executive director, said. “The entire event has exceeded our expectations.  The Ham radio operators have taken the Comanche Code Talker’s story global.  They’ve reached other radio operators as far away as England and Venezuela.”

The United States military used certain Native American service members in both World Wars to transmit vital messages using their Native languages. These “Code Talkers” could relay and decode information in a tremendously short amount of time and never had their codes broken.

Candy Morgan, CNMCC director of Marketing and Public Programs, said the main comment received during the broadcasts was something they expected – that people didn’t know the Comanche’s had Code Talkers and were more aware of the Navajo Code Talkers.

“The museum staff prepared all the historical background information for the radio operators. We provided the group with four pages of bullet points about the Comanche Code Talkers, covering everything from before Code Talkers entered the military to their time after the war,” Morgan said. “Every time they transmit the words ‘Comanche Code Talkers,’ they’re educating someone and we couldn’t be more thrilled about it.”    

Paul Goulet of W5KS said for the most part the listeners said they were thankful the Lawton-Fort Sill and Eisenhower radio clubs were willing to pay tribute to what the Comanche Code Talkers did.

“It is a privilege and honor to be able to do this and tell their story,” Goulet said. “We brought a great opportunity. We hope we’re being very respectful talking of the Comanche Code Talkers.”

Each time someone called in, their call sign was recorded and he or she was able to ask questions. Each Ham radio operator who called in will receive a certificate to observe their participation. The certificates are considered collector’s items by many Ham radio operators.

The museum staff was also available to answer questions from callers, including two descendants of WWII Code Talkers Larry Saupitty and Charles Chibitty.

According to “Code Talkers – heroes of both World Wars” on www.army.mil, there were two types of code talking. Both used Native American languages, but one used specially coded vocabulary while the other did not.

Examples of the code currently on display at the CNMCC show the military term of “ammo dump” had a Comanche code of “Naabaaka Utsa,” which translates into “bullet place.” The military term of “bomber” had a Comanche code of “No?apu Huutsúu,” which translates into “pregnant bird.” The book “Comanche Code Talkers of World War II,” by William C. Meadows offers different Comanche spellings, but the translations remain the same.

“The World War II Comanche Code Talkers played a major role in the D-Day assault. These men were an instrumental part in the allies’ success on the European front. Their actions deserve to be known,” Wahahrockah-Tasi said. “Code Talking was their specialty but they were Infantry soldiers first and foremost. Their main duty was to establish and repair communication lines during battle. These men are true American heroes and the Comanche National Museum is privileged to tell their story.”

A new exhibit titled “Comanche Code of Honor” will be unveiled in the fall. Code talker relics and photographs never seen before will be on display. The opening reception will be at 1:06 p.m. Sept. 26.

Santos Rubio, of W5KS, said they were invited back in the fall and they will have to check if the Viking Radio Club is able to return and help. He said he told the Comanche Business Committee and some Comanche elders of the Navajo’s radio station. He said it would be nice to have Comanche code talkers back on air.

“We could even get a class set up and teach how to get on air,” Rubio said. “Then next year, have your own Comanche radio class day … That’s our goal, to get people interested in amateur radio.”

The Code Talker Recognition Act was passed in 2008 and recognized 13 tribes, which included the Comanche, Kiowa and Choctaw. Sen. John Boehner, Speaker of the House, set a tentative date during Nov. 18-22, 2013 in Washington, DC for the Comanche Code Talker’s Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony. However, since the bill passed the tribes to be recognized has grown to 32. Yet, thus far only 12 tribes, including the Comanche, have completed everything needed for the ceremony. CNMCC suggests people contact Boehner, Sen. Jim Inhofe and Congressman Tom Cole to ask them to proceed with the presentation for the 12 tribes who are ready and have waited five years for the recognition. All of the Comanche Code Talkers have died and only three widows are still living.

The 14 Comanche Code Talkers who served oversees were inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame posthumously on Nov. 11, 2011.

The CNMCC is currently showcasing “All Things Comanche – A Numunuu Trilogy.” The exhibit features items from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, DC. Portions of the exhibition include personal items from Charles Chibitty, the last surviving Code Talker, and will be on display until Aug. 31. For more information about the CNMCC, visit http://www.comanchemuseum.com/.

Anyone interested in amateur radio can visit the Lawton-Fort Sill Amateur Radio Club’s website at www.w5ks.org. Goulet said amateur radio is a great vehicle to teach science, technology, electronics and math (STEM).

Tyler Robinson, a student from Eisenhower Middle School's Viking Radio Club relays stories about Comanche Code Talkers over the radio with the help of his grandfather Bill Burns, who is a Ham radio operator.