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2017-09-06 / Top News

Seven Sioux Code Talkers

Hunkpapa author tells their secret story
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today
Correspondent

RAPID CITY— During any major conflict, but especially a world war, loose lips can sink ships. Many missions are undertaken by specially trained personnel. The military tends to keep these missions secret, and it may be many decades, even generations after a conflict is over, before the truth about what happened finally comes out. Only then are these people allowed to talk about their service, the sensitive nature of their mission.

For a long time, the general public has known about the twenty-nine original Navajo code talkers who served in the Pacific theater during WWII. There have been books, documentaries, movies, even comic books made about their exploits.

We know that Cherokee and Choctaw pioneered code talking in WWI. What has not surfaced until recently, was the contributions of Lakota code talkers, in both the Pacific and in the European theaters of operations during WWII.


WALTER C. JOHN WALTER C. JOHN We can ask, why were these men denied acknowledgment, accolades and commendation for such a valuable wartime service? First, how was the military to know their services would not be needed in the 1950’s, the 1960’s? That is an iron you keep glowing red hot in the fire. Had the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 turned into a worse-case scenario, WWIII would have resulted. The nukes of that time did not constitute mutually assured destruction. Rest assured, those code talkers would have been put back to critically important work in short order.

Beyond that, the military is divided into different branches, and top secret programs are not readily shared within a given branch, let alone between branches. Even the detailed public knowledge of what the Navajo code talkers accomplished did not prompt the military to reveal anything about what the Lakota code talkers accomplished.


ANDREA PAGE ANDREA PAGE Many of these Lakota men, like Garfield Brown of Pine Ridge, went to their graves keeping their pledge of silence. Not even their own families knew what they had done during the war. The contributions of Lakota in the European theater still remains an untold story, but all of Lakota code talkers of WWII had relatives, and it was inevitable one of these relatives would have the talent, perseverance and good fortune to research and write about these Lakota heroes.

Back in 1994, Andrea Page began “researching the military service of my great uncle John Bear King.” Page was a school teacher from Rochester, New York, but her mother was from Standing Rock. For twenty years she would learn on the job the basic how-to of historical research. This was pre-internet, there were no websites or presorted information sources to fall back on.

Avis Little Eagle had written a newspaper article for Tim Giago’s Lakota Times in 1994, and upon reading that article, Page first realized her Uncle John had been a code talker.

“And the ball started rolling from there…” Page said.

She knew Bear King had served with the First Cavalry Division, but he had died in 1949, suffering “from malaria and a spinal injury as a result of his service.” There was no grilling him for details.

“There wasn’t anything in the library,” Page said. “I went to our local veteran agencies, asked some questions, how do you get military files of this unit? Eventually, I got to the National Archives and collected a lot of summary files, eight bins filled with all sorts of documents.”

This gave her a solid road map to proceed: “I just connected with a lot of people; it was like putting a puzzle together.”

After Page hooked up with the commanding officer of Bear King’s old unit, “he just started sending us lots of information about what (John) had done.”

Eventually she met Jack Langan: “He was the one who verified everything. Because of his job as troop bugler, he was near the HQ tent, and nobody knew he was half Lakota, and that he spoke the language…”

Like the others, Langan had to keep silent for decades: “He didn’t tell anybody until all the things were declassified. Until he got a hold of me, other people weren’t listening.”

One would think that the Lakota, a tribe of renowned chiefs and warriors like Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail and Crazy Horse, would have been the ideal front runner for code talker fame. But since it was the Navajo, they were fixed in the public eye as the code talking Indians, and the novelty of such heroism was a spent shell casing to a media locked into the fresh news cycle.

Pelican Books classified Page’s book as “juvenile nonfiction,” so she had a target audience which a lifetime as an educator had made her ideally suited to reach: “It’s really set up like a children’s book for Grades 5-8.”

Page said her book went through thirty-five drafts, about as many years as she has spent teaching school: “And that’s not like changing a word here or there, it’s like pulling everything apart.”

The final product is an engaging read, for a person of any age. Page wastes little time taking us to Manus Island in the South Pacific, 1944. We meet John Bear King, and his code talker partner Eddie Eagle Boy, we are given a graphic example of what they do, how they do it, and why it matters.

Over 400 men were recruited as code talkers in WWII. Page’s book is about seven Lakota men, who served in the Pacific, seven men who all came home, despite being engaged in a dangerous job, up front, eyeballing an enemy that didn’t want to be eyeballed, and relaying back the troop movements of an enemy that would have been happy to kill them to prevent such.

The five Lakota and two Dakota profiled in Page’s book are: Private First Class John Bear King, Standing Rock, (1911-1949); Sergeant Eddie Eagle Boy, Cheyenne River, (1918-1978); Private First Class Walter “Cody” John, Cheyenne River, (1920- 1998); Private First Class Philip “Stoney” LeBlanc, Cheyenne River, (1913-1998); Private First Class Baptiste Pumpkin Seed, Pine Ridge, (1923-2001); Sergeant Guy Rondell, Sisseton, (1919- 1990); and Edmund St. John, Crow Creek, (1920-1996).

Page’s cousin, Frank White Bull, an “awesome artist and photographer,” designed an eye-catching, colorful cover for the 212- page book.

It is probably an overused term to call Sioux Code Talkers of World War II by Andrea M. Page a labor of love, but having poured so much time and effort into a project so deeply connected to her Lakota roots, it is not surprising the experience was an emotional one: “I got to the end, after I had just finished the book, I was like crying.”

Page just couldn’t believe it was all done, and that this special history was now chronicled and part of the public record, and she remembered a quote from Robert Frost: “If there’s no tears in the writer, there’s no tears in the reader.”

(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com)

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