KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. -- 10 out of 400 may not seem significant, but to the families of the Hopi Code Talkers assigned to the Army and Army Air Forces during World War II, the significance is as immense as the plains and mesas upon which the Hopi live. Eight of the 10 were assigned to the 81st Infantry "Wildcat" Division during the Peleliu, Angaur and Philippine campaigns as well as several others. They were specifically assigned to the 321st, 322nd and 323rd Regiments of the 81st which provides the special link between the Hopi and the present-day Wildcats of the 81st Regional Support Command at Fort Jackson, S.C. The 2002 film Windtalkers made 400 Navajo Marines famous, but not until now was there any recognition for their Hopi counterparts and less numbers doesn't necessarily mean less importance.
On April 23, the Hopi tribe held the inaugural Hopi Code Talker Recognition Day at the Hopi Veteran's Memorial Center in Kykotsmovi on the Hopi reservations. Although the last surviving Hopi code talker, Travis Yaiva, passed away in 2010, the desire to honor these heroes is still in the hearts of the Hopi. "This had never been done before," said Hopi tribe vice-Chairman Herman Honanie. "So the idea came to me that we have to do something about it. We have to set aside a day to recognize our Code Talkers."
The keynote speaker for the event was 81st RSC commander Maj. Gen. Gill P. Beck who highlighted the achievements of the code talkers and spoke of the inability to count the lives saved by their efforts. He talked of many of the actions that the veterans themselves rarely spoke of after the war, describing the hellish environment in which the Hopi Soldiers would have found themselves enmeshed. "These heroes played a key role in September of 1944," he said. "The Hopi code talkers, by providing the ability to communicate securely, empowered the 81st Infantry Division to succeed in a very difficult mission. The recognition today is long overdue. These great 81st Soldiers are a part of the long lineage of those who have gone above and beyond and demonstrated excellence for the Army and for our nation."
The ceremony also included a color guard from Fort Huachuca, traditional dances performed by Hopi youth and a traditional meal. Plaques were presented to the families, in some cases surviving spouses, of the Code Talkers. Also, the color guard brought U.S. flags, tri-folded with accompanying certificates and a specially designed coin for each family member. Mr. Honanie also presented Maj. Gen. Beck with a plaque commemorating the Code Talkers and their special relationship to the 81st.
After the ceremony, the visiting Wildcat contingent was taken on a tour of the three mesas on the Hopi reservations. They were given a tour of one of the oldest inhabited villages in the U.S. dating back to the 1100s. The Hopi Soldiers, drafted into service, would have come from these traditional lands and were thrust into a manner of warfare that was entirely foreign to them. Since Hopi are not aggressive by nature and do not refer to themselves as warriors, but defenders, their experiences would have been one of severe culture shock on many levels.
Maxine Wadsworth, whose father was Orville Wadsworth assigned to the Army Air Corps 380th Bombardment Group (Flying Circus), 5th Army Air Force, only learned of her father's wartime activities in 2010. During the ceremony, Honanie had spoken of documents that had been found in a shoebox that confirmed the code talkers' status. Robert Beelman of the 380th Association said that even though the documents were classified secret at the time, it was a good thing that the Soldier had kept them. In 2007, the eight Soldiers from the 81st Infantry were formally recognized by the Hopi tribe. Those men were Franklin Shupla, Warren Kooyaquaptewa, Frank Chapella, Travis Yaiva, Charles Lomakema, Percival Navenma, Perry Honani, Jr. and Floyd Dann, Sr. The discovery of the documents in the shoebox revealed that Orville Wadsworth and Rex Pooyouma were also Code Talkers assigned to the 5th A.A.F. They were recognized in 2011. According to Honanie, they are still trying for federal recognition and hopes the families will one day receive gold medals similar to those received by the Navajo Marines.
Maxine Wadsworth remembers as a little girl, her father occasionally taking out that shoebox, looking through its contents and then putting back. He never really talked much about the war. "We always wondered what happened to him," she said. "Now we know. Our father suffered a lot from PTSD. We understand now because we understand where he was and what happened to him." Besides recognizing the Code Talkers, Wadsworth hopes there will be longer reaching results from the ceremony. "Our hope is that this will open the eyes of the U.S. government and of the need to provide a holistic approach to healing for the veterans that are coming back."
At the end of the day, Beck compared the values of the Hopi tribe with the Army values. "The more I learned about the Hopi people, the more I came away with a deep appreciation for what made these Code Talkers so successful."
Sgt. Amanda Lockwood-Engel was a part of the Wildcat delegation and was awed by the entire affair. "It was an honor to bridge that gap from the RSC sitting in South Carolina to this group of people who have this bond with the 81st," she said. "The Hopi language that was used and how important it was to that building on Marion Avenue, there wasn't enough recognition before today." Lockwood-Engel is Arikara on her father's side and Chippewa, Mandan and Hidatsa on her mother's side having grown up on the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota. "This is the first Code Talker Day and we were a part of that. And to bridge my own personal Native American heritage and to see another tribe that has such fine values, I felt honored to be in that presence."
"It was a very important day for the Hopi Indian Code Talker families, the 81st RSC and the United States Army," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jeffrey Osler wearing a WWII uniform and carrying the 81st colors for the ceremony. By being a part of this ceremony of Code Talker recognition, it is more than just being a Wildcat, we are more like a family now. The families' Grandfathers who were Code Talkers are now part of my Army Brothers. They defended our freedom the way they knew best and to be at the first Hopi Code Talker Day was just incredible."
Students of history can only learn that which is written or spoken of. The significance of the Hopi Indian Code Talkers is not easy to find either online or in the history books. "Acknowledging the importance of the Code Talkers is so important," Osler said. "We must capture this history now before it is forgotten."
Hopis don't generally speak of the dead. It is their belief that a spirit cannot rest when they are spoken of, so there is a delicate balance between the recognition of the Soldiers and allowing them to rest in peace. "The important foundation is that our way of life and our language is so important that it can't be forgotten," Wadsworth said. "Look at what it did for this nation.