NEWS_State to honor Tlingit code talkers at Gold Medal

NEWS_State to honor Tlingit code talkers at Gold Medal

Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: December 22nd, 2020

Lieutenant Governor to present Alaska flags to family members

March 14, 2019

(Tlingit Code Talkers’ Bios)

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer next week will present five Alaska flags to family members of the state’s Tlingit code talkers to honor the crucial role the men played in helping to end World War II.

The flags are flying at half staff this week—each pennant honoring one of the five known code talkers: Robert Jeff David, Sr., Richard Bean, Sr., George Lewis, Jr., and brothers Harvey Jacobs and Mark Jacobs, Jr., who died without ever divulging their secret military service.

Meyer said the state is flying the flags at half-staff in recognition of “these five outstanding American heroes.”

“These men never discussed their top-secret role, even decades after the war ended, in liberating millions of people and saving the lives of countless American soldiers,” said Meyer in a press release.

The event is scheduled at 6 pm, Monday, March 18, at Juneau-Douglas High School, during the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament.

The honor follows on the heels of a formal, posthumous recognition of the code talkers by the Alaska State Legislature, which passed a citation lauding their exemplary military service on March 6. The citation was pushed by veterans’ advocate, former legislator and Tlingit veteran Bill Thomas, and Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) advocated for it.

During the war, the Japanese had cracked every code the United States used, but when the Marines turned to Navajo, Tlingit and other Native American recruits to develop and implement a secret military language, they created the only unbroken codes in modern warfare and helped assure victory for the United States over Japan in the South Pacific.

Navajo code talkers have long been recognized for the crucial part they played in World War II.  But until very recently, no one knew that Tlingit code talkers also used the Tlingit language as a code that the enemy was never able to crack. Even the families of the Tlingit code talkers did not know of their secret service.

“They took their orders seriously, to never talk about it,” said Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Commander Ozzie Sheakley.

“He took it to his grave,” said Krissy Bean, granddaughter of Tlingit Code Talker Richard Bean of Hoonah. “My Grandma Bean (Richard’s wife) did not even know he was a code talker.”

The program was eventually declassified by the government, and the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008 honored every Native American code talker who served in the United States military during WWI or WWII. After passage, President George W. Bush authorized the making of a Congressional Gold Medal of individual design for each tribe and a silver medal duplicate for each code talker.

In November 2013, Congress awarded the silver medals posthumously to the Tlingit code talkers, and Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Commander Ozzie Sheakley received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, on behalf of the Tlingit tribe.

Former House Speaker John Boehner reported at the ceremony that “during forty-eight hours on Iwo Jima, they say 800 Native language battle communications were received and translated.  It took seconds, at a time when decoding by machines could take half an hour.  The men undoubtedly saved lives.”

“We are thrilled that our Tlingit code talkers are at long last getting the recognition they deserve. They are national heroes,” said SHI President Rosita Worl.

There may be other Tlingit code talkers who have yet to be identified. SHI received a call last week from a person who said her grandfather was one of the code talkers, but this has yet to be verified.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,

Caption: Congressional Gold Medal designed in honor of Tlingit code talkers.

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