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Tlingit Code Talkers
Tlingit Code Talkers

We all know about the Navajo Code Talkers, but chances are you’ve never heard of the Tlingit Code Talkers from Alaska. During a ceremony on November 20, they were finally recognized for the contribution in the war with Congressional Gold Medals.  Interestingly, the Tlingit people are part of the Athabascan family tree as are the Dine, or Navajo.  Their language is a branch of the Na-Dine languages.  Being Code Talkers just makes sense.

“...Less than two weeks ago, Jeff David Jr. learned that his father, Jeff David Sr. of Haines, served in the United States military as a Tlingit code talker. The follow-up surprise to that unknown piece of family history was that his father would be among those honored in Washington D.C. with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

David Jr. was one of 200 individual code talkers or their family members who received a silver medal at Wednesday’s ceremony. Each of the 33 tribes recognized received a gold medal. The medals were engraved with a design specific to each tribe.

Native American languages were used during World War I and World War II. Their use is credited for saving the lives of many service members. An estimated 400 to 500 Native American code talkers served in the United States Marine Corps.

America’s indigenous languages were ideal for U.S. war efforts because they were known to very few people outside of their respective tribes, and many are isolated from languages native to other parts of the world. Code talkers were specially trained to use their language so that only they could understand it. A Tlingit code talker would have used a special set of words that might have sounded like nonsense to another Tlingit speaker who wasn’t a trained code talker.

“It made me really proud of my dad,” David Jr. said. “He accomplished a lot of things in his life, but this tops it. It’s really icing on the cake.”

David Sr. died in 1987, only a few years after Navajo code talkers were first recognized by President Ronald Reagan. David Jr. said he never knew about his father’s service as a Tlingit code talker until someone at a veteran’s dinner in Haines told him.

“I kind of wish I had known” David Jr. said. “But he had to keep it under wraps.”

David Jr. said looking back on his childhood he’s somewhat regretful that his father and grandparents didn’t speak to him in Tlingit. He said maybe he’d have to go back to school to learn some of the language.

“I’d like to retain the stories,” David Jr. said. “I miss out on a lot when they tell the stories in the Tlingit language.”…”

You can read more about the Tlingit Code Talkers here

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