Opinion

Sen. Thune: Honoring our Native American War Code Talkers





Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) at Code Talkers ceremony. November 20, 2013. Photo from Twitter

The following is the opinion of Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota).

While the U.S. Capitol has welcomed a number of important and distinguished guests, Congress has only chosen to honor a select few for its Congressional Gold Medal award, the highest expression of appreciation and recognition by Congress for distinguished achievements and contributions.

On Wednesday, November 20th, Congress—in a long-overdue ceremony—recognized Native American code talkers from eight of South Dakota’s tribes with the Congressional Gold Medal for their dedicated service during World War I and World War II.

The ceremony, which took place in the U.S. Capitol, was a tribute to the men who played a unique and vital role in serving our nation during World War I and World War II. While there was only one surviving code talker in attendance, the meaningful sacrifice and story of these men lives on and should remain an inspiration to all Americans. In total, 33 tribes from around the country were recognized at the ceremony. In addition to gold medals, silver medals were awarded to the family of each code talker. There were 216 silver medals awarded, including 59 that were given to the families of South Dakota code talkers.

Code talkers played a critical role in World War I and World War II by using their native languages to efficiently and securely transmit messages that enemy forces were not able to decode. These communications were a tremendous benefit to the Allied forces during military combat.

I was proud that while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, I introduced the first legislation calling for the Sioux Code Talkers to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. This long-awaited honor was finally passed by Congress in 2008 with the enactment of the Code Talkers Recognition Act, of which I was a cosponsor. The bill was signed into law in October of 2008 and directed the issuance of medals to honor the code talkers.

It was among my greatest privileges as Senator to welcome the families and the tribes of these heroic men to Washington to celebrate the valiant efforts of their ancestors. The stories of their sacrifice and bravery are ones that will continue on in the history books for years to come. I encourage all South Dakotans to honor the sacrifice of our veterans and keep the brave members of our military and their families in our thoughts and prayers as they continue to serve on our behalf.