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Lakota Society

Lakota Code Talkers of World War II

Code talkers were United States soldiers during the world wars who used their knowledge of Native-American languages as a basis to transmit coded messages. In particular there were approximately 400-500 Native Americans in the United States Marine Corps whose primary job was the transmission of secret tactical messages. Code talkers transmitted these messages over military telephone or radio communications nets using formal or informally developed codes built upon their native languages. Their service improved communications in terms of speed of encryption at both ends in front line operations during World War II.

The name code talkers is strongly associated with bilingual Navajo speakers specially recruited during World War II by the Marines to serve in their standard communications units in the Pacific Theater. Code talking, however, was pioneered by Choctaw Indians serving in the U.S. Army during World War I. These soldiers are referred to as Choctaw code talkers.

Other Native American code talkers were deployed by the United States Army during World War II, including Cherokee, Choctaw, Lakota Meskwaki, and Comanche soldiers. Soldiers of Basque ancestry were used for code talking by the U.S. Marines during World War II in areas where other Basque speakers were not expected to be operating.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, many American Indian children attended government- or church-operated boarding schools. Families were often forced to send their children to these schools, where they were forbidden to speak their Native languages. Many Code Talkers attended boarding schools. As adults, they found it puzzling that the same government that had tried to take away their languages in schools later gave them a critical role speaking their languages in military service.

Clarence Wolf Guts

Contributions of the Code Talkers

The Congressional Record of June 18, 2002, includes this acknowledgement of the specific contributions of "Sioux" code talkers.

  • Sioux Indians used their native languages, Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Sioux, as code during World War 11.

  • These people, who manned radio communications networks to advise of enemy actions, became known as the Sioux Code Talkers.

  • Under some of the heaviest combat action, the Code Talkers worked around the clock to provide information which saved the lives of many Americans in the Pacific and Europe, such as the location of enemy troops and the number of enemy guns.

  • The Sioux Code Talkers were so successful that military commanders credit the code with saving the lives of countless American soldiers and being instrumental to the success of the United States in many battles during World War II.

Phillip (Stoney) LaBlanc, b: Feb. 10, 1913 d: Jan 17, 1998 Cheyenne River Lakota Code Talker WWII 1942-1946. Served under General MacArthur with the 302nd Recon Squadron of the 1st Cavalry Division. He is pictured here showing his medals and honors.He was half Lakota/half Amer-French; he came from a large family of thirteen children born to Oliver J. LaBlanc and Josephine Sees The Horses- LaBlanc (she was a Little Big Horn survivor). Phillip (Stoney) LaBlanc is buried at the National Cemetery for American Soldiers, Sturgis, South Dakota.


For decades, details of the code talkers program were classified. After the program was declassified, Congress passed laws formally recognizing their contributions. Navajo code talkers received medals in 2001. But, it would be another seven years before Congress passed the "Code Talkers Recognition Act," authorizing medals for representatives of other tribes that served in World Wars I and II. By then, only two Lakota code talkers were still alive, including Charles Whitepipe and Clarence Wolf Guts.

Read the "Code Talkers Recognition Act".

Roll of Lakota Code Talkers

Eleven Lakota code talkers mentioned by name in the Congressional Record (2002 Code Talkers Recognition Act). As of June 2010, all have passed away.

Eddie Eagle Boy, Simon Broke Leg, Iver Crow Eagle, Sr., Edmund St. John, Walter C. John, John Bear King, Phillip "Stoney" LaBlanc, Baptiste Pumpkin Seed, Guy Rondell, Charles White Pipe, and Clarence Wolf Guts. May the world forever remember their courage and patriotism, so long hidden from public awareness.


"I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Clarence Wolf Guts. He and his fellow Code Talkers have had a lasting impact on the course of history and helped lead the Allies to success during World War II. He will be greatly missed, but his contributions to our state and nation will live on." - Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota)

"Clarence Wolf Guts was an American hero; he was courageous and self-sacrificing. I have a great deal of respect for Clarence and for the extraordinary contributions Mr. Wolf Guts made to our country. The efforts of the Lakota Code Talkers saved the lives of many soldiers, and for too long went unrecognized. Kimberley and I wish to express our sympathy to his family during this difficult time." - Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota)

Endangered Languages

As with other indigenous languages, fluency in the Lakota language continued to dwindle after the War. In 1969, schools and organizations on the Pine Ridge Reservation began trying to reverse that trend. It has been a struggle, though. Elders, who now make up 60% of the speakers, were punished as children for practicing Lakotah language and culture, which are entwined and inextricable.

Many elders here blame the language's downfall on Catholic boarding schools, where they were sent as children. Lakota culture and language were forbidden. Philomine Lakota, now a Red Cloud Indian School language teacher with wide-set shoulders and a commanding presence in the classroom, attended a boarding school, where speaking the language was akin to rebellion and was promptly followed with punishment. The sting of a ruler slapped against the back of her hand still burns in her memory, as does gagging and choking while they washed her mouth out with soap. It is no easy task to preserve a language in an environment dominated by another. But, can the world afford to lose a language in which the word for child, wakahyeja, translates as "sacred being?" A language with no word for hate? I think not.

Precious Legacies

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives in 2002, offered this assessment of the value of native languages.

Without the valiant efforts of these patriotic members from many of our Native American communities, our Armed Forces would not have been able to deceive our enemies as effectively as they did. The rare beauty and intricacy of our Native American languages turned out to be our most secret of weapons, and to our code talkers, America owes a great debt of gratitude.

Our code talkers are an example of how the richness of our American heritage became a strength that no adversary could possibly match or overcome. America's freedom endures because our military commanders turned the linguistic heritage of our Native American tribes into an unprecedented asset of warfare.

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