DoD Honors Last Comanche World War II "Code Talker"
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 1999 Charles Chibitty, 78, was honored here Nov. 30 as the last surviving World War II Army Comanche "code talker" during an emotional ceremony in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.
The ceremony was punctuated by thundering drumbeats echoing through the Pentagon corridor and "vocables" of joy and sadness. "Vocables" are sounds replacing words so singers of various Native American tribes can sing together.
Chibitty received the Knowlton Award, created by the Military Intelligence Corps Association in 1995 to recognize significant contributions to military intelligence efforts. The award is named in honor of Revolutionary War Army Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton.
Arthur L. Money, assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications, and intelligence, presented Chibitty the award in recognition of the role he and 16 other Comanche Indians played in cloaking military messages on the battlefields of Europe. The Comanches frustrated enemy code breakers by translating Army messages into their native language. The enemy never broke the code.
The code talkers are credited with saving countless American and allied lives, said Money, who also presented Chibitty an American flag that was flown over the capitol and a framed letter from Johnny Waugua, chairman of the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma.
"Volunteers like Mr. Chibitty were key to the U.S. and allied forces' success from Normandy to Berlin," Money said. "History has proven that our 'code talkers' thoroughly confounded our enemy's intelligence collection efforts, which on several occasions gave us the tactical advantage to ensure success while minimizing the risk to our troops."
"It's incredibly ironic that my agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, dedicated itself for the first half of this century to destroying the native languages that proved to be so useful to our armed forces during World War II," said Kevin Gover, the Department of Interior's assistant secretary of Indian affairs. "It's a great irony that in just two or three generations of being in conflict with the United States, our warriors would go forward and play such a crucial role in the victory over this country's enemies." Gover assisted with the presentations.
Chibitty said the French government recognized Comanche code talkers in 1989 by presenting them that country's second highest honor -- naming each a Knight of the National Order of Merit. But, he said, being honored at the Pentagon was special because "you're home folks."
"I always wonder why it took so long to recognize us for what we did," Chibitty said, holding back tears as he spoke of his deceased Comanche comrades. "They're not here to enjoy what I'm getting after all these years. Yes, it's been a long, long time."
Using the code the Comanches created in 1941 during training at Fort Benning, Ga., Chibitty sent the first message on D-Day which, in English, translated to "Five miles to the right of the designated area and five miles inland the fighting is fierce and we need help."
"We compiled a 100-word vocabulary of military terms during training," said Chibitty, who joined the Army in January 1941 along with 20 other Comanches. "The Navajo did the same thing. The Navajos became code talkers about a year after the Comanches, but there were over a hundred of them because they had so much territory (in the Pacific Theater) to cover."
Choctaw Indians were used as code talkers during World War I.
Since there was no Comanche word for "tank," the code talkers used their word for "turtle." "Machine gun" became "sewing machine," Chibitty noted, "because of the noise the sewing machine made when my mother was sewing." "Bomber" became "pregnant airplane." "Hitler," he said with a grin, was "posah-tai-vo," or "crazy white man."
Chibitty said two Comanches were assigned to each of the 4th Infantry Division's three regiments. They sent coded messages from the front line to division headquarters, where other Comanches decoded the messages. He said some of the code talkers were wounded, but all survived the war.
"The only thing I regret is my fellow code talkers are not here," Chibitty said. "But I have a feeling those boys are here somewhere listening and looking down."
When his last fellow code talker died in September 1998, Chibitty said, "All those other boys up there were welcoming him home. They were hugging and kissing him and, while they were doing that, they said, 'Wait a minute, we've still got one more down there. When Charles gets up here, we're going to welcome him just like we're welcoming you.'"