Medal Ceremonies Honor Native American Heroes

After many years, the code talkers were finally awarded the Congressional Gold and Silver Medals. I’m thrilled to say that my family and I were part of the “Invitation Only” ceremony on November 20, 2013.

When we arrived that morning, we met with other members of our tribe who traveled to Washington D.C. all the way from South/North Dakota. Richard Red Eagle organized our group and gave us the schedule of the day’s events. We found out then that there were actually three ceremonies set for the Sioux Code Talkers. How exciting!

We went through security and entered the Capitol Building. The tickets and invitations were embossed with gold calligraphy.  I loved the silkiness of the golden tassels that were holding the programs together. It made me realize all our hard work was finally being rewarded and we were really attending this once in a lifetime event!

When we entered Emancipation Hall, rows and rows of chairs were set for the 1000+ dignitaries and code talkers’ family members.  A large stage area sat in the back of the majestic room and was filled with cameras, reporters, and all sorts of equipment.  We arrived early enough to sit together and chatted with others who arrived. My family met two important leaders of the two tribal groups we lobbied with years prior. Chief Gregory Pyle (Choctaw) and Chairman Wallace Coffey (Comanche) graciously posed for photos. I was so excited to see them both again! It was such a busy day and I regret I didn’t have more of an opportunity to sit and catch up with them, like I intended to.  I’m sure they were pulled in all different directions as I was all day.  I”m grateful for the few moments we had together before the ceremony.

Inside Emancipation Hall

Emancipation Hall

Just before 11am, a booming voice came over the loudspeaker and the Congressional Gold Ceremony began; the U.S. Army Band and Chorus opened with the National Anthem, the Chaplain of the Senate proceeded with the invocation, and then a variety of Congressional speakers commended the Code Talkers on their unique service, and acknowledged the long overdue recognition of the thirty-three tribes who had code talkers who served in World War I and World War II.

Descendants of John Bear King- My family holding the Congressional Gold Medal

Here are a few excerpts from the prominent speakers:

Senator Tim Johnson (SD) stated, “I worked for over a decade to honor the Code Talkers with Congressional Gold Medals and feel gratified that this day is finally here…”

Representative Tom Cole (OK) stated, “What an honor it is to share this moment with each and everyone of you, in the long history of American Arms, no one…has fought in alliance with and for the United States of Americans like the Native Americans…”

Senator James Inhofe (OK) stated, “Because of the secretive nature of the Code Talkers contribution, you cannot say how many, but we know many, many lives were saved by these American heroes we pay tribute to today…”

Senator Harry Reid (NV) first explained the atrocities on Native peoples from the 1700s when the pilgrims arrived on this continent to the 1900s when “the government took Native children away and told them their language had no value…but the children held onto their language, culture, and history- despite great personal risk- and in this Nation’s greatest need, the same Native American thing…The perfect secret weapon would be languages all but forgotten outside a few isolated communities…these brave soldiers, these Code Talkers had a special gift, their sacred languages, and they selflessly share that gift with our country, this country…We honor our American Heroes today.”

After the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony, the invited guests made their way over to the National Museum of the American Indian for the second ceremony.  Each tribe had a designated time to go upstairs and receive their silver medals.  Photos were taken in front of tribal posters made for the occasion.

NMAI Silver Medal Ceremony

Following the NMAI silver recognition, the Sioux Code Talkers’ families made their way to the Senate building for a third ceremony.  Senator Tim Johnson’s wife (and others) greeted us when we arrived, checking on the elderly and even serving coffee and desserts. As the third ceremony began, the South and North Dakota Senators and Representatives, along with important people from the U.S. Mint spoke again, commending the service of the code talkers.  Then, each code talker’s name was announced individually, and the family members in attendance came forward for a photo with Senator John Thune, Senator Tim Johnson, and Representative Kristi Noem. This small scale gathering, recognizing each code talker by name, was very meaningful.  To hear your loved one’s name said out loud and recognized individually for their service…wow! There are no words to describe the feelings in the room.  People dropped to their knees in tears, hearts were bursting with pride, emotions were shared…and Yes! Native Americans are inspiring, have made great sacrifices, and have a lasting, significant contribution to our nation’s history.

Senator Tim Johnson at the 3rd Ceremony

I knew in my heart the ceremony would be incredibly special.  That is an understatement.  I am getting goosebumps as I write this. That day was one of the most fantastic and memorable experiences of my life (after the births of my children, of course). I will always cherish this day spent with my family, listening to the stories of my ancestors (our Native American Heroes) as told by our country’s leaders.

 

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