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Louis Levi Oakes, last remaining Akwesasne Mohawk code talker, dies

Louis Levi Oakes

By TOM GRASER | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: May 30, 2019

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — The last Mohawk World War II Code Talker has died.

Louis Levi Oakes, an enrolled member of the Saint Regis Mohawk tribe, died Tuesday at the age of 94.

In June of 2016, when Oakes was the last surviving Code Talker, he and his former colleagues were awarded the Congressional Silver Medal. More than 550 people squeezed into the Travis Solomon Memorial Lacrosse Box in Generations Park to honor Oakes and his brother Code Talkers.

Oakes’s daughter, Dora Oakes, was one of those people there that day.

Sitting in the front row, next to her father, Ms. Oakes watched as people tried to work her father for insight about his time overseas as a code talker but said he was always silent on the subject.

“’I was in the Army,’ that was all he would tell us,” Dora said. “’Confidential information,’ he said. ‘They’ll kill me if I tell ya.’”

Oakes was swarmed by people looking to both pay homage for his service and seek insight into his time in the military. And though he said it was a surprise and an honor to be recognized, for a code talker, he didn’t talk much.

A technician 4th Grade with Company B, 442nd Signal Battalion, U.S. Army, Oakes said he enlisted at the age of 18 specifically to be a code talker. He served about 2½ years in the Asiatic Pacific until his honorable discharge on Feb. 15, 1946.

There were only three or four other code talkers in Company B, Oakes said. He said the idea of becoming a code talker came from listening to Native Americans speaking their native tongue in the field. The Mohawk soldiers attended schools to learn the art of code talking. They learned sets of code in their language so the enemy would not understand their radio communications.

But Oakes laughed when he was asked if he could remember how many secret messages he relayed in the Mohawk tongue.

“If I can’t talk it out I’ll give them a smoke signal,” Oakes said. “We talked about field wires in the jungles. They would give you a piece of paper to read and telling you what you were to say.”

Oakes was born on the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne in 1922 and, following the onset of World War II, registered for the U.S. Army. He received his formal military training as a code talker while stationed in Louisiana, along with other Akwesasne Mohawks. He was assigned to Company B’s 442nd Signal Battalion in the U.S. Army.

During his six years of military service, Oakes saw action in the South Pacific, New Guinea and Philippines theaters in World War II.

For his exemplary service, he received the third-highest military combat decoration for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States — The Silver Star.

Throughout World War II, Oakes’s knowledge and usage of the Mohawk language was used to send communications between U.S. forces.

It was one of 33 native languages used during World War II to code important messages, which became known the world over as the only unbroken military code in history.

To recognize their role in helping the Allied Forces to be victorious, in 2008 the U.S. Congress passed the Code Talkers Recognition Act to honor every Native American Code Talker who served in the U.S. military, including Oakes.

Along with receiving the Congressional Silver Medal, Oakes received further recognition for his valor as an Akwesasne Mohawk Code Talker at the 2017 United South and Eastern Tribes Impact Week, Rochester Nighthawks Native American Night Jan. 7, 2017, the 2018 Salamanca Powwow, the 2018 Hopi Code Talkers Recognition Day, 2018 Special Chiefs Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations and the Canadian House of Commons, among others.

On June 8, 2018; Oakes was presented with the New York State Liberty Medal — the highest civilian honor bestowed by New York State upon individuals who have merited special commendation for exceptional, heroic, or humanitarian acts and achievements. The award follows his induction on May 15, 2018 into the New York State Senate Veteran’s Hall of Fame.

©2019 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)
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Louis Levi Oakes, during his time in the military.
SAINT REGIS MOHAWK TRIBE

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