The U.S. Mint is producing a second set of commemorative Code Talker Congressional Gold Medal coins in honor of the Osage Nation, Pawnee Nation, Choctaw Nation and Cheyenne River Sioux tribe.
Medals for Navajo Nation code talkers were produced in 2008 under Public Law 106-554 (December 21,2000). Other code talker medals authorized by Public Law 110-420 (October 15, 2008) included medals for the Comanche Nation, Kiowa tribe, Santee Dakota Sioux tribe and the Tlingit tribe.
The designs for the second set were reviewed by the Commission of Fine Arts on June 21.
The only problem is, the Osage Nation Chief’s Office, three Osage WWII veterans and the Osage Tribal Museum all agree – to their knowledge, there were no Osage Code Talkers in WWII.
CFA Secretary Thomas Luebke stated in a letter to U.S. Mint Deputy Director Richard Peterson the following about the Osage coin design:
“Osage Nation. The Commission recommended obverse (front) #2 after considering the Osage Nation's preference for #1 and concluding that the omission in #2 of the barbed wire depiction – the only difference between the alternatives – would improve the clarity of the design. The Commission also supported reverse (back) #1, the single submitted alternative.”
Osage Nation Executive Director of Governmental Affairs Chris White said July 25 he was not aware of the design and was not aware if there were Osage code talkers at all. He said he called the Osage Tribal Museum and an Osage veteran and neither source knew of Osage code talkers either. He had put in a call to the CFA as well. As of July 31 he still had not received a call back, he said.
The Osage News asked Michael White of the U.S. Mint Office of Public Affairs who he spoke with about the design of the Osage coin and he said a member of the design team said they spoke with Osage Nation Principal Chief John Red Eagle.
WWII Veteran Bill Mashunkashey, 89, who was honored by the Ladies Auxiliary Unit of the American Legion Post 198 for his service in the U.S. Army in May, said he had no knowledge of Osage code talkers.
“I served with Kenneth Jump, Russel Warrior Jr., and only those two could speak Osage, besides myself,” he said. “They weren’t code talkers.”
WWII Veteran Richard Luttrell, 85, said he didn’t know of any Osage code talkers either.
“I wasn’t with any Osages at all in WWII. I served with Osages in Korea but they’re both dead now. I don’t think we had any [code talkers]. Most of those code talkers [for other tribes] went in as a group, all together,” he said. “That’s what they went in for, just to do that. The Osages more or less went in as individuals – registered in different places, served in different outfits. I’ve never really heard of it, code talkers … not until after the war.”
In the book, “The Comanche Code Talkers of World War II,” written by William C. Meadows, Osages are mentioned in a paragraph about other Native American communications operators in World War I.
“In their discussion of Osage telephone operators, Wendell Martin and Alphonzo Bulz, veterans of the Thirty-Six Division, remarked that the Osages ‘used to love to talk on our telephones and they’d talk in Osage. We used to wonder if Germans could ever interpret those calls.’”
Whether the Osages were having conversations or discussing military plans is unclear.
In 2001, Navajo Code Talkers were recognized with Congressional Gold Medals for their contributions during WWII. Under the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-420), 22 additional tribes will be recognized for their contributions during WWI and WWII.
“The purpose of the act is to require the issuance of medals to express the sense of the Congress that the service of Native American code talkers to the United States deserves immediate recognition for dedication and valor; and honoring Native American code talkers is long overdue,” according to the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008.
CFA Secretary Thomas Luebke said it will take the CFA five to six years to review all of the Code Talker Congressional Gold Medal designs.
The gold medals will be awarded to the verified tribes and the silver medals will be awarded to the verified code talker or their family members, said Michael White, U.S. Mint Office of Public Affairs. These tribes have the discretion to donate their gold medals and silver duplicate medals to the Smithsonian.
The Osage News asked White which Osage veterans the silver duplicate medals would be going to. He has yet to respond.
If anyone has any information on Osages serving as code talkers in WWII please contact the Osage News at (918) 287-5668 or email us at email@example.com.
[Editor's Note: This story was edited for clarification on Aug. 10, 2012.]