A Native American Hero from ‘Up North’ Dies at 94
Sometimes it takes a gentle nudge from our wonderful neighbors to the North to remind us that North America includes Canada (in addition to 21 other countries) and how much and how often Canada has participated in and contributed to “our“ wars and to “our” prosperity.
Not recognizing such can sometimes be attributed to a little bit of arrogance, other times to a little bit of ignorance.
The latter certainly applies to this author.
I have written several stories about a subject close to my heart, “The (Navajo) Code Talkers.”
Sadly, most of the recent pieces have been about “the last of…”
In the last three weeks we have lost two more of the “last of the Code Talkers,” a group of brave Native Americans who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II using their ancient indigenous languages as unbreakable codes to transmit secret messages, stymieing the enemy.
I have tried to explain that, “while the Native American ‘code talkers’ are generally associated with Navajo speakers…in addition Cherokee, Choctaw and Comanche soldiers were also used as code talkers during World War II.”
Also that, “because the code talkers come from different groups, tribes, regions, and states, their passing is frequently noted as ‘one of the last of…’ or even ‘the last of…’
The explanation should have included different “nations” as in “Indian Nations” and, in the geopolitical sense, as in another country.
I was unaware that among the Code Talkers there were 17 Akwesasne Mohawks who have been recognized by the U.S Congress as Code Talkers.
The Akwesasne reserve stretches across parts of Quebec, Ontario and New York and at least one of the Mohawk Code talkers was born in the Canadian part of the reserve.
One of these heroes, Louis Levi Oakes, “the last surviving Mohawk code talker” according to the Canadian National Post, died last Tuesday in Snye, Quebec – one day after Memorial Day. He was 94.
[After registering in the U.S. army at age 18, he] was sent to New Guinea and then on to the Philippines, where he transmitted coded messages translated from English to other Mohawk speakers. He often had bodyguards with him, as his language made him a valuable target.
[After the war,] Oakes went back to Buffalo and worked as a steelworker for the next 30 years, before retiring in Akwesasne. He married at 25 and had 10 children. But for most of his life, he never spoke about his work as a code talker, having sworn an oath of secrecy after he signed up.
For his exemplary service, Mr. Oakes received the third-highest military combat decoration for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States, the Silver Star, according to Military.com.
In June of 2016, Mr. Oakes, along with his former colleagues, was awarded the Congressional Silver Medal.
Mr. Oakes received numerous other awards, honors and decoration including from Native American tribes and Nations, from New York State and from the Canadian House of Commons.
On May 15, 2018, Mr. Oakes was inducted into the New York State Senate Veteran’s Hall of Fame.
My thanks to our great neighbor to the North, our own “Brownies Girl,” for bringing both the origins and the sad passing of “the last surviving Mohawk code talker from WWII,” to our attention.
Lead image: Louis Levi Oakes (center) receives the Congressional Silver Medal from Rep. Elise Stefanik and Michael Cook from the American Legion, May 28, 1916. (Credit: St. Regis Mohawk Tribe via Military.com and via Facebook)