In Honor of Ho-Chunk Code Talkers

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In Honor of Ho-Chunk Code Talkers

June 29, 2024 - 09:21
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Recently, on June 6, the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Sandy Winneshiek called to invite me to an event. How significant for her to reach out to me on the anniversary of the turning point of WWII. In fact, we both commented on the great significance of the day and it quickly reminded me of the many soldiers who fought, sacrificed, and won to keep freedom alive during WWII. As we witnessed during the D-Day observances, our WWII veteran population is shrinking as they pass on reminding us to honor and remember them now.

It was less than a year ago that I met Sandy Winneshiek and Donald Robert Greengrass in my Madison office. At our first meeting, Sandy and Don presented their story on their vision for the “Ho-Chunk World War II Code Talkers Memorial Highway.” Sandy had a relative who was a code talker and Don’s father was a code talker. It was very apparent that they both had tremendous dedication and passion in communicating the unique and very valuable contribution to the war effort that the Ho-Chunk code talkers had made. Both Sandy and Don are military veterans.

We talked about our respective relatives who had served in WWII. My mom had lost her only sibling on the battlefield at the time of the Battle of the Bulge near Cherburg, France. Although I never knew my uncle, my family shared his life story and military contribution as an important part of our family’s legacy. By knowing my uncle’s story, it brought his memory to life for me. I could certainly understand the significance of the code talkers story to all their loved ones.

As vice chairperson of the Assembly Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, I feel I also have the opportunity and responsibility to support legislation that encourages Wisconsin to keep telling the stories of all our veteran and military members.

Sandy Winneshiek, an Air Force veteran, had worked for years researching the contributions of the code talkers, specifically the 14 Ho-Chunk soldiers involved and making sure that their Congressional Gold Medals were posthumously awarded to their surviving families.

You can easily see why after our very first visit, I immediately made a commitment to be the Assembly author for the “Ho-Chunk World War II Code Talkers Memorial Highway” which will start at the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line in LaCrosse County and go to the intersection of I90 and I94 in Monroe County honoring the Ho-Chunk code talkers. They are:

  • Bill Whitebear
  • Benjamin Winneshiek
  • Bill Mike
  • Jesse Mike
  • Clifford Blackdeer
  • Emanuel Thundercloud
  • Howard Littlejohn
  • Alvin Blackdeer
  • Donald Blackdeer
  • Irvin Blackdeer
  • George Green
  • Donald I. Greengrass
  • Adam Littlebear, Jr.
  • Alfred O. Stacy
  • other unidentified Ho-Chunk World War II code talkers.

Assembly Bill 678 was introduced for sponsorship by assembly members on November 27, 2023. Prior to the introduction of the assembly version, I spoke with our Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who was especially supportive of the bill. The Senate version was introduced around the same time by the senate author, Patrick Testin. Both of us represent legislative districts that include a portion of the Code Talkers Memorial Highway. Ultimately, we had 47 bi-partisan representatives and senators from throughout the state co-sponsoring our bill.

Next stop for our bill, AB678, was committee assignments in the assembly and senate. On December 5, 2023, the Senate Committee on Transportation and Local Government held a public hearing followed in January, 2024 with an executive hearing. The committee vote was unanimous, 5-0, to send the bill to the senate floor for a vote.

On January 30, 2024 The Assembly Committee on Transportation, which I am chairperson, held a public hearing. On February 6, 2024 an executive hearing was held with another unanimous committee vote of 12-0 to send our bill to the assembly floor for a vote. At each step of our process, the bill gained momentum.

During our public hearings I offered testimony on our bill along with Donald Greengrass, Sandy Winneshiek, Representatives Kristin WhiteEagle and Shelby Visitin of the Ho Chunk Nation Legislature, along with registrations of support from Jospeh Hoey of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, Mike Furgal of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Ho-Chunk Nation, and the American Legion Department of Wisconsin.

By February 21, 2024 both the Assembly and the Senate had unanimously passed the “Ho-Chunk World War II Code Talkers Memorial Highway.” Legislation.

On March 25, 2024, Governor Evers signed AB 678 into law becoming 2023 Wisconsin Act 216 in Baraboo. The bill signing was one of the most well attended that I have ever participated in.

Along with the ceremony the Thundercloud Drummers and Singers performed. It was truly a memorable celebration of honor.

At the bill signing, there was also an impressive and touching display by the families and loved ones of the code talkers. They shared photos, awards, and stories of their cherished family members. They also shared the same conviction that Sandy and Don brought to my office at the beginning of our legislative journey together.

During World Wars I & II, Code Talkers were American Indian soldiers who utilized their native language as a way to send secret communications on the battlefield. Working in pairs, one Code Talker would translate messages from English to their Native language over portable radios to a fellow Code Talker who would translate it back to English from their native language. These codes were never deciphered by the enemy.

The U.S. Military (Army, Navy, and Marine Corps) developed policies to train and recruit Native soldiers. The work of the Code Talkers was essential to both the European and Pacific campaigns, assuring the Allied victory in World War II. However, the Department of Defense use of abbreviations and codes are often impossible to decipher on their veterans' discharge certificates, making it difficult to acknowledge their contributions during the war.

Preserving the legacy of Code Talkers is crucial to honoring their service to the American people and to the Nation, and their contribution towards preserving the Hoocąk language for future generations.

In closing, all those involved in the passage of Act 216 helped to further the message and legacy of the Ho-Chunk Code Talkers. Much like the way the code talkers disseminated crucial battlefield communication, we honored them by sharing their story, gathering support to create greater awareness and understanding for the future.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: You can see the News8000 story here]

There is 1 Comment

I got to be a senior citizen before I knew this story in full, this was one more great asset that helped save the world, God bless Native Americans and all Americans!

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