In June 2010 America and the Lakota Sioux people lost a hero.
Clarence Wolf Guts was born and raised on the Rosebud Reservation in the south-central area of South Dakota. During World War II he served as a code talker with other men from the reservation. There were about a dozen code talkers using the Sioux language.
Code talkers were Native American speaking men who communicated in their native language, passing critical information around on the battlefield. Because the Japanese did not have anyone who spoke any of the Indian languages they never broke the code; they never understood any message sent by a code talker. The next barrier beyond speaking the language was the codes they used, such as turtle meaning tank or some other word meaning naval gunfire or company or regiment.
This is the first mention I have seen of code talkers who used Lakota Sioux, or any Sioux language. Yeah, I’m often a bit slow to catch on. That is reflection on me, not these incredibly brave men or the value of their service.
Article makes it clear Clarence Wolf Guts wanted to defend his country (that means the United States, in spite of how lousy he and fellow members of his tribe have been treated for, oh, over a century). He enlisted, went overseas, and did the work he was assigned. He is like a couple million other guys in that respect.
I consider him my newest hero, even though he has been gone for a decade.
Why is he my hero, when millions of others simply did their duty?
First, one individual who stands out or who we read about frequently represents a huge number of other people we never know anything about. Mr. Wolf Guts represents all who served as code talkers. He represents all the Native Americans who proudly served during World War II, whether they are Navajo, Sioux, or some other tribe who have not received any publicity.
In some respects it isn’t fair that one person gets the attention that belongs to a bunch of people, but sometimes that is the only way we can honor anyone in the group.
Second, the most critical part is humility. Someone who tells everyone on the planet every chance they get what fabulous things they did and how wonderful they are is probably not a hero. The guy who says “gee, I just did my job” is a candidate for consideration as a hero.
A revised and updated article at South Dakota Magazine by Bernie Hunhoff provides information for this post: The Last Lakota Code Talker. The nice photo in the article shows what could be everyone’s elderly grandfather. A handsome looking man.
Article explains he and a cousin, Iver Crow Eagle, went through basic and advanced training together before being transferred to the code talker program. Two other Lakota joined them, Roy Bad Hand and Benny White Bear. In total there were around a dozen Lakota code talkers.
When interviewed by a general regarding his language ability and asked to join the code talker program, Mr. Wolf Guts told the general, quoting
“I don’t want to no rank, I don’t want no money. I just want to do what I can to protect America and our way of life.”
He believed that if the Japanese prevailed, he and the other Lakota Sioux would be dead.
Each of the code talkers was provided two bodyguards to protect them.
After the war there was no publicity about the code talker program. In fact all the details were classified. Article speculates, quite reasonably, that the military wanted to hold the program secret with the possibility of using it again in a future war.
The release of the book Wind Talkers and a follow-up movie in 2002 shed tremendous publicity on the code talker program.
Congressional honors followed calling attention to more than 100 men from 17 tribes who were active in the program. By that time most of them had passed away.
During congressional testimony, the article says Mr. Wolf Guts was visibly uncomfortable with the attention. He said:
“I am a full-blood Indian, and we do whatever we can to protect the United States because we love America. Nobody can ever take that away from us.”
I looked for a photo of Mr. Wolf Guts but could not find any which allowed me rights to use it. In my search I did find one photo with all rights reserved.
Comment by the photographer says that when terrorists felled the World Trade Center on 9/11/01, Mr. Wolf Guts had his son call the Pentagon to see if the military could make use of his code talking abilities to go after Osama Bin Laden.
At age 86, he was ready to go to war again to defend America.
Now you can see why he is my hero.