WWI Code Talker Joseph Oklahombi Choctaw
WWI Code Talker Joseph Oklahombi Choctaw
The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces
36th DivisionJoseph Oklahombi
Choctaw, Doughboy, Code Talker &
Pvt. Joseph Oklahombi
Company D, 141st Infantry, 36th Division
Contrary to the Hollywood war movie Wind Talkers, the practice of securing battlefield communication by having Native Americans transmit messages in their own languages did not begin during the Second World War. The tactic was initiated amongst Choctaw National Guardsmen in the Battle for Blanc Mont Ridge in the Champagne Sector of France in October, 1918. Joseph Oklahombi was one of these code talkers, so his story is intertwined with theirs. But this particular code talker was also a mighty warrior; one of the greatest of the doughboys. He reportedly captured more men in the Champagne than Sgt. York did in a comparable and more famous event in the Argonne Forest [132 men captured] two days later. In this article we have tried to focus on the deeds of Pvt. Oklahombi. The fascinating story of the Choctaw Code Talkers can be found by clicking here: (link)
The Choctaw Nation is justifiably proud of its son Joseph Oklahombi. In their newspaper Bishinik and their excellent website they tell his story:
During World War I, Joseph Oklahombi, a Choctaw private, exemplified the courageous fighting spirit of the American Indian . . . Private Joseph Oklahombi, a Choctaw, was awarded the Croix de Guerre by Marshal Pétain himself. Joseph Oklahombi, from Wright City has been lauded as Oklahoma's greatest war hero of World War I. He received citations from General John J. Pershing and French Marshal Pertain for his action in the St. Etienne sector in France.
All Indian Company of the Oklahoma National Guard
Possibly Oklahombi's Unit
A month before the armistice in 1918, Oklahombi and his buddies in Company D, 141st Infantry, 36th Division, were cut off from the rest of the company. They came across a German machine gun emplacement, with about 50 trench mortars. The American soldiers captured one gun and turned its fire back on the Germans. For four days they held the enemy down, until help finally came. Of the enemy, 171 were taken prisoner.
General orders cited Oklahombi for his bravery in moving about 200 yards of open territory, braving machine gun and artillery fire. He was awarded the Silver Star to be worn on the Victory Ribbon by General Pershing, and the Croix de Guerre from Marshall Pertain. Medals were reissued to his son, Jonah, in 1992 and are currently on display at the Choctaw Capitol Museum at Tushka Homma.
Oklahombi, on returning to his homeland, was another soldier home from the war - no triumphant entry into the port of New York, no bands playing nor ticker tape parade.
He was merely another soldier from the war making his way back to his home in the Kiamichi Mountains in southeastern Oklahoma to be with his wife and son. Joseph settled back to a life of farming, hunting and fishing.
As this country grew nearer the brink of war in 1940, Oklahombi was called upon to give his views of another conflict. "The United States must prepare itself and really prepare immediately," he said. "Of course, I'm not in favor of war, but if the peace of the United States is molested, we must be prepared to defend ourselves."
Besides his fighting activities in Europe during the war, Oklahombi was valuable to Allied Troops because of his Indian background. Allies used the Choctaw language as a code for messages - a code never broken by the German intelligence officers.
Oklahombi was killed in an accident near his home on April 13, 1960.
His citation for the Croix de Guerre reads:
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.
It is possible that Pvt. Oklahombi's achievements were even greater than indicated in this citation. In researching this article one account was found that had the German group holding out in a cemetery and actually numbering 250 men. It suggested that Joseph killed 79 of them and the remaining 171 were those who decided it was wiser to surrender. Unfortunately, no official verification of this version of events has been found to date. Please contact the editor if you have some substantiating information.
Choctaw Nation War Memorial
Listing Joseph Oklahombi and His Fellow Code Talkers
Sources and Thanks: Professor of Indian Studies Lee Brightman encouraged this article. Additional information was found at:
The Choctaw Nation Website
The American Indian in the Great War: Real and Imagined By Diane Camurat at The World War I Document Archive Website
"Choctaw Code Talkers", Bishinik, March 2000