Honors Last Comanche World War II "Code Talker"
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON 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
"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 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.'"
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||Arthur L. Money
presents Charles Chibitty with a cased American flag
that was flown over the capitol during ceremonies in
the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes. The 78- year-old Chibitty
is the last surviving World War II Army Comanche "code
talker." Money is the assistant secretary of defense
for command, control, communications, and intelligence.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Broils, USA.
||The Knowlton Award, presented
to Charles Chibitty in a Nov. 30 Pentagon ceremony,
was 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. Chibitty,
78, is the last surviving World War II Army Comanche
"code talker." Photo by Rudi Williams.