The Original Code Talkers: Still speaking 100 years later

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BLANCHARD, OKLAHOMA -- Nuchi Nashoba never knew her great-grandfather.

"I grew up looking at his picture at my grandmother's house," she says.

But Ben Carterby still spoke to her nonetheless.

"I remember being so taken with that picture."

Carterby was one of 19 Choctaw boys who signed up with the U.S. Army in 1917 as America entered World War I.

People like Ben Hampton, Tobias Frazier and and underage Solomon Louis grew up at the Armstrong Indian Academy.

They were punished for speaking Choctaw then.

But Nuchi says they were still speaking it one night at a camp in France when a captain overheard the and formed an idea.

Nashoba explains, "He thought if he couldn't understand the Choctaw language then perhaps the Germans couldn't understand the language."

It was Louis who organized his friends, all of them from southeast Oklahoma.

They came up with code words for Army terms that didn't have Choctaw equivalents.

"Company was bowl," she quotes. "Platoon was thong. Machine gun was little gun shoot fast."

The experiment worked.

Germans who intercepted phone calls from the battle field were baffled.

"Impossible to decipher right," wonders a visitor?

"Right," agrees Nashoba. "It was."

18 of the original 19 made it home.

Noel Johnson is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in France.

Nashoba says her great-grandfather wouldn't talk about his wartime experiences because he promised not too.

"The men were sworn to secrecy," she says.

For most of the past 30 years Nashoba and a few others have been telling the story of two wars.

Nuchi admits, "It's been a labor of love."

It's been almost 100 years since her great-grandfather spoke to fellow soldiers in his native tongue.

His voice is still sending messages that reach across 4 generations.

Nashoba is President of the Choctaw Code Talkers Association.

During the first 11 days of November 23 bridges across southeast Oklahoma will be named for the original Choctaw code talkers and 4 others who served in World War II.