Alaska Legislature honors WWII Tlingit code talkers
The Alaska State Legislature is posthumously honoring Tlingit code talkers and the role they played in helping to end World War II, by passing a citation.
According to a statement from the Sealaska Heritage Institute on Wednesday, the citation passed by the Legislature specifically honors Robert Jeff David, Sr., Richard Bean, Sr., George Lewis, Jr., and brothers Harvey and Mark Jacobs, Jr.
When the Japanese broke American codes during the war, military leaders turned to Native Americans to develop a secret language. They created the only unbroken codes in modern warfare and helped the U.S. gain victory in the Pacific theater.
"The Tlingit language as a code, they used that. The enemy could never understand, they could never break that, never crack that code," said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, on Wednesday. "Even the families of the Tlingit code talkers did not know of their secret service."
Stevens noted that Navajo code talkers have long been recognized for their service, but up until very recently no one knew Tlingit code talkers also contributed.
More than 44,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives served in World War II, Stevens said.
In 2013, Congress awarded silver medals posthumously to the Tlingit code talkers. Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Commander Ozzie Sheakley received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor, on behalf of the Tlingit tribe.
Family members of the five Tlingit code talkers listened in the House and Senate floor gallery Wednesday while their family members were honored.
Senator Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, addressed the Senate floor on Wednesday, saying the Tlingits' native tongue helped save American lives.
"It's a little bit ironic, Madam President, that many of those Native Americans who served our country so nobly and who saved so many lives with their rapid communications, an unbreakable code, were punished for using their Native languages in schools when they had been younger," Kiehl said.
In 2008, The Code Talkers Recognition Act honored every Native American code talker who served in the military during WWII.
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