#3 in a series
Cpl. Charles Chibitty; Tulsa, OK
By Paul A. Roales
I first met Charles Chibitty at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Tulsa OK in May, 2003. I am a Viet Nam era veteran and was waiting to see the Doctor. Seated across from me in the waiting room was an elderly Native American gentleman. He was so distinguished looking that I asked the man seated next to me who he was. He told me that it was Charles Chibitty "the last Comanche Code Talker from World War II”. So I listened in on his quiet conversation with the old veterans seated around him.
Like most people I had heard of the Navajo Code Talkers who served in the Pacific Theater during WW2 with the US Marines, but was not aware that other Indian tribes had contributed Code Talkers to the war effort. The previous year I had visited the National Cryptological Museum at the National Security Agency in MD where the tour guide talked about the Navajo Code Talkers. I had always thought the Navajo language was encoded before being transmitted, decoded, and then translated by another Navajo back into English. But the tour guide said the Indians talked directly to one another in their native language. The guide said the Japanese never cracked the Navajo “code”. It turns out that the Comanche Code Talkers did the same thing in the European Theater and the Germans could not crack their “code” either.
I met Charles once more on March 6, 2004 when he was honored by the Tulsa City-County Library System by being inducted into their “Circle of Honor”. Before the ceremony I approached Charles and asked him to autograph the flyer for the ceremony which included his picture. He was obviously proud of his military service and signed it: “Cpl. Charles Chibitty”. The ceremony included speeches, music, singing, and Indian dances. Charles gave an acceptance speech and then answered questions from the audience. Being a champion dancer himself, he was also cajoled by the audience into giving an example of his own dancing skills. During the Q&A session Charles said the Code Talkers had to substitute words for parts of their messages during the war because there were no Comanche words for such things as “tanks”. So the code talkers used their word for "turtle." "Bomber" became "pregnant airplane." "Hitler" was "crazy white man."
Because he had looked so spry at the library ceremony, I was surprised to see an announcement of Charles’ death on television on July 20, 2005. He was 83 years old.
Charles Joyce Chibitty was born November 20, 1921 near Medicine Park, OK, a small community in the Wichita Mountains. In 1940 he was attending Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, KS when he enlisted in the Army. The Army wanted 40 native speakers for a special project but only managed to find 20. Three of them were sent home because they had dependents. Mr. Chibitty was one of the remaining 17 dispatched to Fort Benning for basic training and then to signal school at Fort Gordon, Ga. The seventeen men were trained in communications, but only fourteen were deployed to the European theater. Serving overseas were: Charles Chibitty, Haddon Codynah, Robert Holder, Forrest Kassanavoid, Willington Mihecoby, Perry Noyebad, Clifford Ototivo, Simmons Parker, Melvin Permansu, Elgin RedElk, Roderick RedElk, Larry Saupitty, Morris Sunrise, and Willie Yackeschi.
As a radio man with the 4th Infantry Division, Charles took part in some of the fiercest fighting of the war. He landed on Utah Beach with the other 13 Comanches who went ashore at Normandy on D-Day. His Division was involved in the breakthrough at St. Lo, the Hurtgen Forest campaign, the Battle of the Bulge, and the rescue of the "lost battalion." They were the first American unit to participate in the liberation of Paris and the first infantry division to enter Germany.
Cpl. Chibitty earned the World War II Victory Medal, the European Theater of Operations (5th Bronze Star) Victory Medal, the Europe African Middle East Campaign Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. The French government honored the Comanche Code Talkers by presenting them all with the Chevalier of the National Order of Merit. In 1999 Charles received the Knowlton Award from the Pentagon, which recognizes individuals for outstanding intelligence work.
He was not only the last surviving Comanche Code Talker, he was also the last surviving hereditary chief of the Comanche tribe. He was descended on his mother's side from Chief Ten Bears, one of the signers of the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867.
His obituary appeared in the Boston Globe, Chicago Sun Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and other major newspapers throughout the country. The Department of Defense issued a Press Release and obituary.
With the death of the last Comanche Code Talker another chapter in American Military History was closed. Fortunately, I was privileged to view that final page before it was turned.
NOTE: The picture of Charles Chibitty at the top left was taken by the author and the croped image of the signed program flyer is from the authors collection. The WW2 picture on the right was taken from "The Commanche Code Talkers" by Jonathan Gawne in THE G. I. JOURNAL, March/April 1998, P. 4.
NOTE #2 (Oct., 2010): I recently acqired a copy of the book "The Comanche Code Talkers of World War II" by William C. Meadows (University of Texas Press, 2002). It contains a detailed history of the Comanche Code Talkers, a lighter treatment of the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II and coverage of the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I. It is illustrated with two dozen photographs. When the book was started 5 of the Comanche Code Talkers were still alive, by the time it was completed Charles Chibitty was the sole survivor. In addition to the detailed information on the code talkers the book contains a list of about 75 of the Comanche code words they used. There were originally about 250 coded words, but by the time this book was written the survivors could only remember these 75.
E-mail feedback or questions to Paul Roales.You can return to Heroes: An Introduction HERE. All contents copyright 2008, 2009 & 2010 by Paul A. Roales