Mohawk Tribe mourns loss of Levi Oakes

P-R FILE PHOTOA smiling Louis Levi Oakes holds his Congressional Silver Medal for service as a code talker in World War II following the presentation May 28, 2016.

AKWESASNE — The last remaining Akwesasne Mohawk code talker has died.

"It is with a heavy heart that the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe has joined in sharing condolences for the loss of a beloved Akwesashró:non — Louis Levi Oakes," the tribe said in a press release.

"He touched the lives of everyone who met him and will be missed by many, particularly by his loved ones."

 

CODE NEVER BROKEN 

Oakes, born in 1922 on the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne, grew up there and registered for the U.S. Army at the age of 18.

He received his formal military training as a code talker while stationed in Louisiana, along with other Akwesasne Mohawks. He was assigned as a technician 4th grade with Company B’s 442nd Signal Battalion.

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

He and other Akwesasne code talkers, who used their native Mohawk language, Kanien’keha, to code messages, served in the Third Army under Gen. George Patton.

The Japanese never broke the code, which played a major role in the eventual Allied victory.

Kanien'keha was one of 33 Native languages used with great success during the war.

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

"He served with distinction and received an honorable discharge on Enníska/February 15, 1946," the release said.

 

RECOGNITION AT LAST

 

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

Oakes was one of 17 Akwesasne Mohawks to receive the Congressional Silver Medal for his military contributions as a Native American code talker on May 28, 2016.

For decades after the war, Oakes kept his role as a code talker a secret; he didn't even speak of it to his own family.

“It was confidential information, so I never talked about it,” he said in 2016, after receiving the Silver Medal. 

 

OTHERS HONORED

In all, 17 Mohawks were confirmed as code talkers; by then, Oakes, 91, was the only one still living. 

Family members of the other 16 accepted the medals for them: they were Mike Arquette, Joseph Barnes, Thomas Cole, Louis Stanley Conners, Angus B. Cook, Joe King, Louis E. King, Angus J. Laughing, Alex Wilson Lazore, Charles Lazore, Alex Oakes, Alex W. Peters, Joe Harry Pyke, Mitchell Sunday, Reginald White and Albert Tarbell.

Bronze medals were awarded to Mohawks whose service as code talkers had not yet been confirmed: Joseph Robert Herne, Edgar Jock, Abe Ransom, Louis Ransom, Andrew Rourke, Phillip Thompson and Peter White.

 

HONOR FLIGHT

In September 2016, Oakes traveled with North Country Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to see the war memorials there and be honored for his service.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council donated $3,600 to the organization to cover the expenses of Oakes and other tribal vets making the trip.

 

LIBERTY MEDAL

Oakes received many other honors for his valor at the 2017 United South and Eastern Tribes Impact Week; Rochester Nighthawks Native American Night in January 2017; 2018 Salamanca Powwow; 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, he 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 followed his induction on May 15, 2018, into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.

World War II seemed very far away to the code talker as he was finally free to talk about experiences.

“Sometimes I think about it," he said some 70 years after his service. "It’s like a dream.”

 

Email Suzanne Moore:

smoore@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @editorSuzanne