Next year, the Comanche Nation in southwest Oklahoma plans to unveil a $40,000 bronze statue at their tribal complex honoring the courage and service of those Comanche soldiers. All of them survived to return to their Oklahoma homes but their story was quickly forgotten.
"At a meeting we felt it was time to honor the Comanches," said Jack Codopony Sr., a Marine and commander of the Comanche Indian Veterans. "We were always hearing about the Navajo code talkers but nobody knew about the Comanches."
Navajo code talkers attained instant celebrity after the recent movie "Windtalkers," but while the Comanches and members of other Indian tribes served the same role as early as World War I, little is known about their exploits.
Eighteen Choctaw soldiers transmitted messages for the U.S. Army during the first world war. Since then, members of the Cheyenne, Cherokee, Chippewa, Cree, Hopi, Kiowa, Menominee, Muskogee, Oneida, Osage, Pawnee, Sac and Fox tribes have been code talkers.
The Choctaw code talkers were among the more than 12,000 American Indians who served during World War I. Of the 44,000 Indians who served in World War II, more than 400 were code talkers, according to the Native American Times.
The Comanche code talkers, fluent in their native language, were all recruited from southwest Oklahoma and trained by the U.S. Army. The critical messages they sent in their native tongue during key battles were never deciphered by the Germans.
On June 6, 1944, the Comanche soldiers were with U.S. forces when they landed under a torrent of gunfire on Normandy Beach during the D-Day invasion.
"Fighting is fierce. We need help," was the first message radioed in Comanche by Charles Chibitty, the only surviving member of the Comanche code talkers.
Military experts believe the Comanches saved thousands of lives and were critical to the ultimate success of the invasion on the French coast.
Chibitty, 81, now lives in Tulsa and encourages the current movement to remember the men he served with in the European Theater of the war.
In 1989, the French Government honored the Comanche code talkers with the "Chevalier of the National Order of Merit." In 1992, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney presented Chibitty a certificate of appreciation. In 1999, he received the Defense Department's Knowlton Award for his contributions to military intelligence efforts.
The Comanches have hired sculptor Dan Pogue of Marble Falls, Texas, to create the bronze statue at his studio and foundry in the Texas hill country.
Pogue, an Oklahoma native, has completed a scale model of the statue which depicts a kneeling Comanche soldier, speaking into a radio handset. The spirit of a Comanche warrior, with long, flowing hair and a lance, whispers in his ear. The 17 code talkers are depicted in portrait reliefs at the base.
Pogue researched the Comanche code talkers extensively before beginning the project, according to his son, Doug, who works with his father.
"He's talked to people, including the lone survivor and done a lot of research, going to museums and taking a lot of pictures," he said.
Pogue said it may take a year to complete the life-size bronze statue.
Codopony said the bronze statue will ensure that the courage and heroism of the code talkers is never forgotten by the tribe or the nation.
"You never hear about the Comanche code talkers and we are trying to do something locally to honor them," he said.
(Reported by Phil Magers in Dallas)
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