Forgotten Valor –Native Americans who did it first.
by Gideon D. Asche
In the Champagne Sector of France in 1918, during the battle for Blanc Mont Ridge, the enemy had advance notice of everything the Americans were doing. Colonel A.W. Bloor, 142nd Infantry came to suspect he had a leak or an infiltrator because
Trying to find the leak, the officer sent a wireless operator team to a remote location in the rear and broadcast a message indicating he was with a convoy of ammunition and had become lost.
The response included the coordinates for the forward Ammunition Storage Point the convoy was looking for. – Within an hour, those coordinates became a series of large impact craters. – The Enemy was listening.
The first Code Talkers. – Colonel Bloor remembered that he had a company of Native American soldiers under his command. A quick count revealed that Choctaw Doughboys spoke twenty-six different languages or dialects, only four or five of which were ever written – “There was hardly one chance in a million that Fritz would be able to translate these dialects”. – Col, A.W. Bloor, 142nd Infantry, Commanding.
Contrary to Hollywood, this was the origin of the Code Talkers. The first recorded use of Native Code Talkers was in 1918 when the order was given to withdraw two companies from a precarious position. Col. Bloor ordered Choctaw Warriors to man the wireless radios and transmit in their native tongue. The enemy’s complete surprise is evidence that he could not decipher the messages.
If Fritz got wind it would be a massacre – The withdrawal was completed without mishap. The enemy’s complete surprise is evidence that he couldn’t decipher the messages – Pvt. Joseph Oklahombi was one of those code talkers.
Despite knowing firsthand of the treachery inflicted on their people by the U.S. government, these Warriors had an integrity that would not allow them to violate their Tribal Father’s word of Honor.
The Choctaw Nation swore allegiance to the United States –They weren’t considered good enough to be citizens, but they would fight for the United States as a matter of honor.
At St. Etienne, France, on the night of October 8, 1918 a 24-man patrol, from the 141st Infantry, including Oklahombi and several other Choctaw soldiers, became cut off from the rest of their company.
The Kaiser’s troops were operating with impunity. Their well-coordinated and effective ambush operations devastated allied units. The enemy lit the Americans up with a numerically superior enemy force including heavy machine guns and approx. 50 trench mortars. I can’t find records of how many NCO’s or Officers were with the 24-man patrol but I am confident Oklahombi, as a Private, was not the ranking man.
That quality of battle that incites your rectum bite holes in your skivvies also has a natural ability to choose command. If there is a lack of Command Presence, the situation will appoint a leader and the rest will follow. This is clearly evident in the actions of Oklahombi and his 23 buddies.
German accounts tell of the sound of whooping war cries, then screams, then another gun would fall silent, only to and eventually spring back to life and bear down on German positions. Four days and Four nights the Doughboys terrorized German positions into surrendering. Almost 80 Germans lost their lives and 171 chose to surrender on the fourth day of the battle.
Under a violent barrage, Pvt. Oklahombi dashed to the attack of an enemy position, covering about 210 yards through barbed-wire entanglements. He rushed on machine-gun nests, capturing 171 prisoners. He stormed a strongly held position containing more than 50 machine guns, and a number of trench mortars. Turned the captured guns on the enemy, and held the position for four days, in spite of a constant barrage of large projectiles and of gas shells. Crossed no man’s land many times to get information concerning the enemy, and to assist his wounded comrades. – Translation of French orders awarding the Croix de Guerre to Pvt. Joseph Oklahombi.
General Pershing awarded Pvt. Oklahombi the Silver Star with the Victory Ribbon and he received the Croix de Guerre, one of France’s highest honors for gallantry, from Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain personally.
In spite of sounding cliché the French Croix de Guerre orders did actually “lose something in translation” and references to the other 23 soldiers with Oklahombi were not included.
Pvt. Joseph Oklahombi was run over by a truck while walking on the road near his home in 1960; he died at the scene – His valor forgotten.
First Native American Paratrooper. – Things were not much better for Native Americans in the 40’s, yet when the United States came under attack on Dec. 7th – As is the Native American way, there were already warriors willing to answer the call and take up the bow in defense of this nation.
Most of us know of “Drunken Ira Hayes” – It causes bile to come up for me to even refer to him that way. Ira Hayes a Pima Indian who volunteered to serve with the Marine Corps. Hayes was given the title “Chief Falling Cloud” by his fellow Paratroopers when he graduated from the Marine Corps Parachutist course – Ira was the first Native American to wear Jump Wings.
Ira Hayes was the first Native American Paratrooper. He was assigned to a parachute battalion of the fleet Marine Force and he saw more combat than I even want to think about.
Hayes’ picture, as he was helping raise the Flag on Mount Suribachi, is world famous but consider – Hayes was one of over 250 Marines in his company when he landed on Iwo Jima – Less than 30 survived the battle.
Ira Hayes drowned face down drunk in 2” of water in a drainage ditch. His valor forgotten – except for a song about a “Drunken Pima Indian”.
By the time Korea and Viet Nam rolled around, Native Americans who served were given more credit and did receive the honors they deserved but there was still a stigma attached to being an “Injun” and if you looked like one it was a distinct disadvantage.
Capt. Simpson Evans: The first Native American Naval Aviator.
In 1943 Simson Evans earned his Naval Aviator Wings – he was also the first Native American Fighter Pilot; first Native American to shoot down an enemy Aircraft; first Native American to serve in combat in three wars.
Simpson Evans is Choctaw but like many Choctaw he looked more European than Native American. Consequently his Native American status was not known until long after he proved himself under enemy fire and he was able to climb the ranks like any other Naval Officer.
Capt. Evans flew in three major wars; he flew Bombers in the pacific in WW2, Fighters in Korea, achieving 2 enemy kills, and during Viet Nam Evans was involved in a Dog Fight that no man of his age had any business fighting – He prevailed.
During the Signing of the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri there was a flight of fighters circling above; Simpson Evans was flying Wingman to the flight commander.
I had the honor of meeting Capt. Simpson once. It was at funeral, well it wasn’t exactly a funeral per say; it was this thing they do in the south called “Decoration.” It takes place at the family cemetery and is a cross between, a Rodeo, a drunken brawl and a church service.
I was doing a stint at JRTC in Fort Chaffee, and I met this hot little “Blue Eyed” Choctaw girl, so I made it a point to frequent JRTC anytime my kind was needed. She invited me to go to “Decoration” with her and, not having a clue what it was, I accepted. I wasn’t expecting to meet 400 family members at the cemetery.
There was one older guy, kind of and intimidating and anti-social looking character who seemed to be avoiding the masses, and at one point we both meandered in the same general direction ended up face to face.
He greeted me with: “Who the (expletive deleted) are you,” then looked me up and down a couple of times and continued – “Yer military aren’t you?” I nodded affirmatively and told him who I was with.
He grinned – “Good; as long as you’re not family – I hate this shit.” He told me who he was and offered me his hand and a flask. Uncle Simpson, as my girlfriend called him, was a pretty good ole’ boy in my mind, I didn’t yet know his history.
Over the 25 years since, I’ve heard a hundred stories about Uncle Simpson and even if half of it is true … He was one Bad dude. There is one story I know to be true and it makes me proud to be related to the Captain, even if it is only by marriage.
During Korea, pilots were given the locations of POW camps and reeducation centers so they wouldn’t mistake one for the bad guys and attack a POW camp. Pilots would always take advantage of targets of opportunity with any non-expended ordinance and hopefully knowing these locations would prevent an accidental bombing of a POW camp or convoy.
Capt. Evans earned himself a collection of both verbal and written reprimands because the last thing he would normally do after a mission was look for a POW camp on the way home.
Before he went feet wet… he would make a mock gun run on the camp sending the North Koreans into their shelters, then make a low fast pass over the camp doing a victory roll and hitting afterburners as he left. He told me he wanted to make sure they knew we hadn’t forgotten them. – Watermelons!
Capt. Evans died of natural causes in 2010 –A U.S. Navy missing man formation fly by and a combined Choctaw–USMC honor guard escorted the Captain home. I count it an Honor to have known him.
His valor is not forgotten.