On D-Day Anniversary, Remembering the Last WWII Comanche Code Talker

Indian Country Today

Today, June 6, 2013, is the 69th anniversary of D-Day.

Fourteen Comanche Code Talkers were part of that massive invasion, including Charles Chibbity. Today, as we remember and honor the sacrifices and efforts of the 160,000 Allied service members who took part in D-Day, we also take a moment to honor Chibbity, who was the last of the World War II Comanche Code Talkers. He walked on in July 2005. The following article was written by Rudi Williams, American Forces Press Service.

When Charles "Charlie" J. Chibitty, the last World War II Comanche Code Talker, was buried July 26, 2005, a friend wrote in the eulogy, "Charlie's life has no foreshadowing or ending. As long as wind blows, his life and legacy will continue to twist and turn along courses only wild horses know.

Chibitty died July 20 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was 83. He was invited to the Pentagon three times — in 1992, 1999 and 2002 — in honor of his service to the nation as a World War II code talker. He, along with 16 other Comanche Indians, was part of an Army company of code talkers who befuddled the Germans during the invasion of the beaches of Normandy, France.

During his 2002 Pentagon visit, Chibitty said his unit hit Utah Beach in Normandy "the first or second day after D-Day." His first radio message was sent to another code talker on an incoming boat. Translated into English, it said: "Five miles to the right of the designated area and five miles inland, the fighting is fierce and we need help."

"We were trying to let them know where we were so they wouldn't lob no shells on us," he explained with a chuckle. "I was with the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division. We talked Indian and sent messages when need be. It was quicker to use telephones and radios to send messages, because Morse code had to be decoded and the Germans could decode them. We used telephones and radios to talk Indian, then wrote it in English and gave it to the commanding officer."

The Comanche Indians frustrated enemy code breakers by translating Army messages into their native language. The enemy never broke the code.

Chibitty enlisted in the Army in January 1941. He earned the World War II Victory Medal, European Theater of Operations Victory Medal with five bronze stars, Europe-African Middle East Campaign Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. In 1989, the French government honored the Comanche code talkers by presenting them the Chavalier of the National Order of Merit.

He was presented the Knowlton Award, created by the Military Intelligence Association, in 1995 to recognize significant contributions to military efforts. In April 2003, Chibitty attended the dedication ceremony for a monument to Choctaw and Comanche code talkers of World War I and World War II at Camp Beuregard in Pineville, La., where he trained during World War II. When he visited the Pentagon in 1992, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney presented him a certificate of appreciation for his service to the country. Chibitty also received a special proclamation from the governor of Oklahoma, who honored him for his contributions to that state and the nation.

When Chibitty visited the Pentagon in November 2002, he donned his feathered Indian chief's headgear and offered a prayer in the Pentagon Chapel for those killed in the terrorist attack on the building. The aging World War II code talker then went to nearby Arlington National Cemetery and placed a wreath and offered an Indian prayer at the Tomb of the Unknowns. His 2002 visit included a meeting with Defense SecretaryDonald H. Rumsfeld. Before returning home to Tulsa, Chibitty spent some time with researchers at the U.S. Army Center for Military History for oral history sessions.

"Laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns really meant a lot to him," Chibitty's adopted daughter, Carrie V. Wilson of Fayetteville, Arizona, said during a telephone interview.

Charles Chibitty, the last surviving World War II Comanche code talker, told Pentagon officials that teachers at the Indian school near Lawton, Okla., became angry with him for speaking the Comanche language in the early 1920s, then the Army wanted Comanches to use their language as a code during World War II. Photo by Rudi Williams.

"When he talked about his code talking days, he always said he wished that all the other code talkers could have gotten the awards, attention and recognition that he did," said Wilson, a cultural resource consultant. "But by the time they really recognized the Comanche code talkers, most of them were dead.

"He never thought about any of the awards without thinking about all the others who had gone before him," Wilson noted. Pointing out that Chibitty was a traditional Comanche speaker, Wilson said his death is a huge loss to the Comanche community. "He tried to teach Comanche to whomever showed an interest in it," she noted.

"He was a big powwow Indian, and he took me into his family more than 35 years ago," said Wilson, a Quapaw Indian, who is a former Miss Indian Oklahoma and a Quapaw tribal princess. "He adopted me, and put his daughter's clothes on me, and took me out to a big powwow in Tulsa. He told everybody that he gave me permission to wear Comanche clothes because he'd taken me into his family as his daughter."

Wilson said she has many fond memories of Chibitty, including going to powwow dances with him and his brother. Both of them were nationally known for their Indian championship dancing. "When he and his brother and other Comanches came out onto the dance floor, they looked like royalty," she said. "They were always recognized in the Indian community as championship dancers.

"We'd laugh and tease, and he was always fun to be around," Wilson said. "But an important thing is that he was always there for anyone who needed help, whether they had problems with drinking or just needed someone to talk to. He was always available to listen to them and give advice, or be a friend.

"Every night before he went to bed, he'd sit on the edge of his bed and pray," she noted. "He was a very sincere person. He knew what war was about and how precious life is. And, he believed that education is one of the most important things."

Chibitty's son, a promising attorney, was killed in a car accident in 1982, and his daughter died about 10 years later, Wilson said. "After that, his wife died," she noted. "So my role as a daughter became more real. Before his wife died, she told me to take care of him – I tried."

In addition to Wilson, Chibitty is survived by two grandsons, Chebon Chibitty and Acey Chibitty, and another adopted daughter, Lacey Chibitty, who reside in Tulsa. He also leaves behind a number of nieces and nephews.

Musical tributes included the Kricket Rhoads Connywerdy, Comanche Sovo drum, Comanche hymns at the graveside. Chibitty was given full military honors, including a 21-gun salute by the Fort Sill Honor Team.

"They sang the Comanche code talkers' song, which is a beautiful song, as they were putting him into the ground," Wilson said. The Comanche Indian Veterans Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 577, American Legion Post 1, Masonic Rights and Millennium Lodge 543 attended his funeral.