Native American history since the arrival of Europeans has been a long story of loss. That loss included being gradually and forcibly removed from their ancient homelands, the loss of their cultural heritage and ultimately the loss of their language. Tribes in every corner of this country were forced onto reservations and during much of the 20th century the young were sent to government run boarding schools where they were to be “acculturated” into American culture. They were often punished for speaking their native languages in these schools as well. The result was that many Native languages were lost to history.
But there is an irony in this story. WWII came along and the necessity to be able to put important military messages into codes that could not be broken by the enemy, either the German or the Japanese enemy, became an immediate priority. As history and irony would have it, the speakers of those Native languages would be called upon to help the United States and allies win the war.
We know of the famous Navajo Code Talkers. Their effectiveness with the Marines in the Pacific is legendary and with good reason. They were the largest group of Native language speakers who were called upon to be Code Talkers. But many other tribal languages and Native speakers were also called upon. One of those languages was that spoken by the great warrior tribe of the southern plains, the Comanche. This video is about the Comanche speakers who helped were an important part of the victory in the European Theater of WWII.
I read a book a while back called “The Empire of the Summer Moon,” which was a great history of the Comanche People. They were a horse people that controlled and roamed freely over great swaths of the southwest, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and into Mexico. Much of the book told the story of Quanah Parker, a war leader of the Kwahadi (Antelope) band of the Comanche. Texans know that name and the history surrounding it. He was the last of the great warrior chiefs who would see the end of the Comanche days of freedom and would end his life on a reservation at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.
The Comanche warriors, Spirit Talkers, in this video were raised on the Ft. Sill reservation and went to the Ft. Sill Indian School there. As you will hear in the video, they were taught to make their beds there and how to march. When they went into the Army, they impressed their drill instructors with their ability to march so well, at their discipline.
One can imagine the irony of coming out of those Indian Schools where they were told to forget their language to now being called to use it for the purposes of communicating the most important military communications in a way that would confuse and confound the enemy. One can imagine, too, that those Comanche speakers, and all of the other Native American speakers, saw the irony and took delight in refreshing their language skills and honing them for that purpose.
There is no other ethnic group in this country that can match the percapita participation in the military services of the United States than Native Americans. This would seem ironic itself, given their history with the American government over the history of this country. But it is a fact. WWII would see tens of thousands of Native Americans serving in the various military services. But the most well known, of course, are the Code Talkers.
While the Navajo Code Talkers are the best known for their worked with the Marines in the Pacific, the Comanche “Spirit Talkers” did the same work for the Army in Europe and you will hear some of that here. One of the most interesting facts you will hear here is that the first messages from the beaches on D-Day at Normandy were sent using Comanche Code. This was true also for the messages that were sent by General George Patton to his troops as they engaged in battles with the retreating German forces.
There is a monument on the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma dedicated to the Comanche Spirit Talkers today. While they are remembered by their own people on the res, we must never forget what these Comanche and other Native Code “Spirit” Talkers did in the effort to free the world from the tyranny of Nazism and Japanese Imperialism.
We thank the Comanche Spirit Talkers for their courage and for their intelligence and skills in developing the communication codes that proved so successful in confounding the enemy in both the European and Pacific Theaters of WWII. May your languages never be forgotten.