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Congress Honors Tlingit Code Talkers, Forgotten Heroes of Both World Wars

Senators Lisa Murkowskiand Mark Begich with Commander William

Senators Lisa Murkowskiand Mark Begich with Commander William "Ozzie" Sheakley

PHOTO: Courtesy of the office of Senator Lisa Murkowski

Washington, D.C. - Senators Lisa Murkowski, Mark Begich, and Congressman Don Young today honored the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and 32 other tribes from across the country with the highest honor bestowed by Congress, the Congressional Gold Medal, for their critical service and unrecognized role as Code Talkers during both World Wars.                  

Commander William “Ozzie” Sheakley represented the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska at today’s Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring Native American Code Talkers

The honor bestowed upon Alaska’s five Tlingit Code Talkers today represents Congress’ “highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. The Tlingit and Haida tribe was represented at a ceremony hosted in the United States Capitol by three Alaskans; Commander William “Ozzie” Sheakley, William Thomas Jr., and Jeff David Jr. – a Tlingit code talker descendant. In addition to the 33 gold medals presented today, more than 200 silver medals were presented to the code talkers and their families.

“The critical role these men played in sparing the lives of fellow servicemen is remarkable,” said Representative Don Young.  “By communicating in spoken code at places like Iwo Jima and Normandy, these fine men forever changed history. Because of them, we were able to relay real-time information on enemy positions, provide directions to troops on the ground, and gather intelligence that helped us end a dark time in the world’s history.”

“These Tlingit soldiers bravely passed along our nation’s secrets at a very difficult time, but their story should not be a secret to Americans today,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.  “Alaska’s World War II history is far too often an untold and unappreciated part of our nation’s history.  Our territory was occupied in the Aleutians, our first people represented the Alaska Territorial Guard and our Code Talkers stepped forward with a willingness to defend a nation they had yet to fully belong to.  I thank them and their people for their courage and commitment.”

“Today is a proud and long overdue day for members of the Tlingit tribe and the families of the Tlingit code talkers,” said Senator Mark Begich. “As a result of the tireless efforts of the Tlingit code talkers in WWII, thousands of American and Allied lives were saved. Few men are so deserving of the gold medal and I was honored and humbled to be able to witness the recognition of these five brave, patriotic men.”

Code Talkers were first utilized in WWI, when standard methods of communications had become decoded by enemy intelligence. Native American Code Talkers used their native tongue to communicate real-time wartime messages with great accuracy and speed, at a time when secret messages otherwise would have taken up to a half-hour to decipher their information. This top-secret communications method continued extensively throughout World War II in both the European and Pacific theaters. But these instrumental soldiers, who laid the groundwork for wartime communications, returned home not as praised heroes but rather sworn to secrecy. The Code Talker program remained classified until 1968.

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young were both cosponsors of the 2008 legislation, the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008 (H.R. 4544), that honored these previously unrecognized tribal groups and veterans. Navajo Code Talkers were honored with the same distinction nearly a decade earlier.

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