Securing lines of communication are vital in every war and on every battlefield. If the enemy broke this security, they can quickly learn of impending attacks, logistical situations, and thwart their opponents at every opportunity. In World War I, German radio operators and code-breakers were adept in their monitoring and deciphering of enemy communications. Fortunately for the American Expeditionary Force, they discovered a valuable asset that pioneered an innovative and wholly North American trait in their military communications: Native American code-talkers.
Choctaw Indians serving in France regularly spoke in their native languages within their group. One day, Colonel A.W. Bloor of the 142nd Infantry Regiment heard a conversation and realized something extraordinary; the Germans would have an arduous time trying to decipher messages if they were encoded in Choctaw. Native American languages possess uniqueness in that they are not typically written down and were relatively unknown to Europeans. Colonel Bloor decided to utilize these Choctaw soldiers in developing a military code using their specific dialects. An obstacle to this however was much of the US military vocabulary did not have a corresponding word in Choctaw dialects. This forced them to improvise certain words that related to their messages. Colonel Bloor described this process in a report to his commanding general’s headquarters:
‘It had been found that the Indian’s vocabulary of military terms was insufficient. The Indian word for “big gun” was used to indicate artillery. “Little gun shoot fast” was substituted for machine gun, and the battalions were indicated by “one, two, three grains of corn.”’
(You can read the entire report here on the National Archives Catalog: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/301642
Following training periods for developing a standardized Native American code, it was quickly implemented and Colonel Bloor noticed instantaneous results. German code-breakers who routinely decipher American messages were soon stumped by the innovative use of Choctaw dialects. Repeated surprises by AEF assaults seemed to confirm that the Germans could not understand the new Native American code-talkers. Captured German soldiers later stated that the use of Native American languages had completely confused them and they could not gain any useful information out of them.
Despite their achievements in France, the Choctaw code-talkers were largely forgotten after the end of the war. The prominence of Navajo code-talkers in World War II overshadowed much of the Choctaw’s former accomplishments in encoding military messages. In the 1980s, they received posthumous honors from both the Choctaw Nation and France for their contributions and in 2008, President George Bush signed the Code Talkers Recognition Act which posthumously awarded every code-talker a Congressional Gold Medal.