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Tribe seeks to honor Mohawk code talkers

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MALONE - A St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council official is currently working on a project to have Mohawk code talkers who served in World War II recognized by Congress and awarded a special medal for their service.

Jeffrey C. Whelan has been designated to serve as the tribe’s official liaison with the United States Mint to design the medal and is currently compiling a list of all Mohawk World War II veterans.

Many may have heard of the military’s use of Navajo code talkers in the war from film and television. What many may not know is the U.S. armed forces used about 10 different Native American languages to communicate in code, including Mohawk.

According to Mr. Whelan, a comprehensive list of all Mohawk World War II veterans has yet to be completed. The project is still in the early stages, and he isn’t quite sure who the code talkers are or if they are still alive. He has recently acquired a list of about 720 St. Regis Mohawk veterans who served in the military up to 1971.

He hopes one day to expand his list beyond World War II.

“I have no problem developing a list that goes back to the Revolutionary War,” Mr. Whelan said in a tribal press release.

Mr. Whelan, who was a radio operator in Vietnam, said the Mohawk soldiers would attend schools in America to learn the art of code talking. He said they would learn sets of code in their language so the enemy would not understand their radio communications.

“If they saw there was an enemy truck coming down the road, they wouldn’t say, ‘There’s a truck coming down the road;’ they would say something like, ‘There’s a baseball team on third base,’” Mr. Whelan explained.

He said entire platoons of Mohawk code talkers were part of General George Patton’s renowned Third Army, which fought its way through the deserts of North Africa into Sicily and then through Europe.

Mr. Whelan said Mohawk code talkers were involved in the June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy on D-Day. The battle secured an Allied foothold in continental Europe, leading to the fall of Germany less than a year later.

He said in the days leading up to the invasion Mohawk code talkers parachuted behind enemy lines and conducted cloak-and-dagger type missions that helped make the D-Day attack possible.

He said Mohawk code talkers were in the Battle of the Bulge, a German offensive on the Western front mostly concentrated in the Ardennes forest of Belgium. Lasting from Dec. 16, 1944 until Jan. 25, 1945, it was the bloodiest battle of the war on the American side and resulted in a severely depleted German army retreating back into Germany; the battle also shattered the German air force, known as the Weirmacht.

“Those Mohawk veterans of World War II who used the Mohawk language to help the Allied forces win victory demand tribal and U.S. government distinction as true heroes,” reads a letter from the tribe to the U.S. Mint.

“The Indian people across the country have the highest per capita of folks joining the military in all times, up to today,” Mr. Whelan said.

The next step for the project is for Mr. Whelan to complete the list of Mohawk veterans. He will then use documents provided by the government, archival sources or soldiers’ family members to validate their unit, where and when they served, and what their duties were.

Anyone who was or has a family member who was a Mohawk code talker and would like to aid Mr. Whelan in his venture can do so by calling the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s community building at (518) 358-2272.

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