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Mohawks seek distinction for WWII ‘code talkers’

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HOGANSBURG — A St. Regis Mohawk Tribe member is 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 the tribe’s official liaison with the U.S. Mint to design the medal, and he is compiling a list of all Mohawk World War II veterans.

Many may have heard of the military’s use of Navajo code talkers from films and television. But the U.S. armed forces used about 10 different American Indian languages, including Mohawk, to communicate in code.

A comprehensive list of all Mohawk World War II veterans has yet to be completed, Mr. Whelan said. His project is in the early stages, and he said he isn’t quite sure who the code talkers were or whether they are still alive.

He said that he has acquired a list of about 720 St. Regis Mohawk veterans who served in the military up to 1971, and that he thinks about 20 of them are dead.

Mr. Whelan said 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,” he said in a tribal news release.

Mr. Whelan, who was a radio operator in Vietnam, said the Mohawk soldiers attended schools to learn the art of code talking. They learned 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 said.

He said entire platoons of Mohawk code talkers were part of Gen. George S. 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. D-Day secured an Allied foothold in continental Europe, leading to the fall of Germany less than a year later. He said that in the days leading up to the invasion, Mohawk code talkers parachuted behind enemy lines and conducted cloak-and-dagger missions that helped make the attack possible.

Mr. Whelan said Mohawk code talkers were in the Battle of the Bulge, a German offensive on the Western front concentrated mostly in the Ardennes forest of Belgium. Lasting from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, it was the bloodiest battle of the war on the American side and resulted in a severely depleted German army and shattered German air force.

“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.

To compile his list of Mohawk veterans, he will use government documents, archival sources and information from their families to record their units, where and when they served and what their duties were.

Anyone who was a code talker or has a family member who served as one and would like to help Mr. Whelan can call the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s community building at 1 (518) 358-2272.

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