FORT JACKSON, S.C. — Soldiers and civilians celebrated Native American heritage and their contributions to military history during the National Native American Heritage Observance held at Darby Field on Nov. 17.
“Native American history is American History,” said Col. Kent Solheim, 165th Infantry Brigade commander. “Native Americans remain grounded in truth and resilient in spirit. We reflect on both the history and teachings of their achievements for our great nation.”
During the observance, attendees learned the history of Comanche code talkers and their impact on World War II.
“In December of 1940, the Army recruited 17 Comanche to become code talkers,” said Staff Sgt. Ky DeFlippo, a Comanche tribesman and drill sergeant assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment. “They received phone, radio, Morse code, and semaphore training. They were placed under the command of Lt. Hugh F. Foster to develop an unbreakable Comanche language code.”
DeFlippo, one of two guest speakers, said “they were given 250 military terms they translated” into common Comanche words “such as tutsahkuna' tawo'i',” or sewing machine, to represent machine gun and “wakaree'e,” or turtle, to mean tanks.
During World War II, these code talkers would land on Utah Beach in France, fight and relaying decisive communications throughout several strategic and key battles that enabled American and Allied forces to ultimately win the war.
“The Comanche code was never broken,” DeFlippo said. “Although several were wounded, none were killed.”
Being a member of the Comanche tribe, DeFlippo visits his elders in Lawton, Oklahoma and attributes his motivation to enlist in the Army to his father, also a veteran, and the warrior culture of his heritage.
“I do think it is my heritage that ultimately pulled me to join the U.S. Army. I am related to Quanah Parker, the last known war chief of the Comanche tribe,” DeFlippo said. “Being a warrior of a homestead is just in my nature.”
Martin Red Bear, Army veteran and member of the Lakota people of the Sioux tribe, also spoke of the warrior culture and the “strong relation with the armed forces.”
“A lot of Native Americans come from warrior societies,” Red Bear said. “A lot of them couldn’t fulfill their culture, their way of life as time went on. The only way they could practice their warrior societies was enlisting in the U.S. armed forces … Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy … whoever they be. It doesn’t matter who they are, what branch they are, to us as natives, those are our warriors.”
Red Bear explained how the Army gave him and others the opportunity to practice his personal need to live his warrior culture. He said it’s a feeling deep inside that drives many Native Americans to enlist.
While the enlistment of Native Americans in the military helps diversify the forces, it also offers non-Native American service members an opportunity to experience a different culture but an extended Family as well based on warrior culture.
“There are many instances where Native Americans have influenced Army life,” Red Bear said. “The Family I come from, we cherish and support all service members. If you come to our land, we look at you and know that you are warriors and welcome into our homes with open arms. That’s how much Native Americans mean to the armed forces.”
"Despite National Native American Heritage month only being in November, wherever you go … we stand by you,” Red Bear said. “We recognize the warrior passion inside of you and they will always support, cloth, feed you and treat you as Family just how you treat each other as Family. Always remember that.”
Though not a scheduled part of the celebration, Nicholas Garcia was recognized during the ceremony by Solheim during the ceremony.
A member of the Cochiti people found in New Mexico, Garcia happened to attend the ceremony while visiting his grandson Nico during the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment Family Day.
Garcia stood out during the ceremony wearing a leather vest adorned with beadwork his people are renowned for. He spoke for a time with both Solheim and Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Michaelis, Fort Jackson commanding general, who traded stories of their love of motorcycles.
After the ceremony ended, attendees were treated to a display of Native American art and information about some of the most influential Native Americans in American military history including the code talkers DeFlippo spoke about.
Native American Heritage Month is celebrated throughout the month of November, this year’s theme of “Grounded in Tradition, Resilient in Spirit,” which reminds us of the difficulties of the past year, and historically how Native communities draw strength from traditional practices, common values and rich long-standing customs to preserve and transcend, according the Society of American Indian Government Employees website.