The communication efforts of the World War II Code Talkers have become nearly legendary, with the line between myth and reality blurred by time and Hollywood. Clarence Wolf Guts, a Sioux Nation Code Talker, may be the key to a common myth suggesting that Code Talkers would be killed by their bodyguards if they were about to be captured.
During WWII, Code Talking was the manipulation of obscure languages, often done by American Indians, to provide secure voice communications (see the sources at the end of the article for more on Code Talking from the Center for Cryptologic History). The Navajo, with the largest contingent, are the best known Code Talkers. Used almost exclusively by the Marine Corps, they were the first to see combat in World War II (the 1942 Guadalcanal Campaign). Yet, many other tribes also performed Code Talking during the war. The Meskwaki, in the 1942 North African campaign (Operation Torch), were the first for the Army to see combat.
The Sioux Nation encompassed several Code Talking tribes. Speaking Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota, they were employed mostly in General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific campaign. The greatest number were assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, where they were called “MacArthur’s Boys.” The 1st Cavalry saw action liberating the Philippines and eventually landed in Japan as an occupation unit.
The best known of the Sioux Nation Code Talkers was Clarence Wolf Guts, an Ogalala Lakota Code Talker, who was the personal Code Talker (i.e., radio man) for General Paul Mueller, commander of the 81st Infantry Division. The 81st, another one of General MacArthur’s units, saw action in the Southwest Pacific (e.g., on Peleliu Island and in the Philippines).
Records suggest General Mueller had actually been on the lookout for Native American speakers in his unit, and in fact, he would eventually utilize members of other tribes, such as the Hopi, as Code Talkers. He assigned Wolf Guts as his personal Code Talker after learning that he could “read, write, and speak” Lakota. Iver Crow Eagle, a friend of Wolf Guts, was assigned to General Mueller’s chief of staff.
An interesting sideline to Wolf Guts’ story is that he might well have been the only Code Talker who was to be killed to prevent capture by the enemy — and the source for this assertion is Wolf Guts himself.
A common myth is that the American Indian Code Talkers were to be killed by their bodyguards if they were about to be captured. Their special code was considered so irreplaceable that the enemy could not have it under any circumstances. Movies such as “Windtalkers” (2002) have perpetuated the myth.
Yet there is no evidence that there was ever military policy to prevent their capture this way. In fact, Code Talkers were captured on occasion. When this happened, the military simply changed the codes they were using. Code change was standard policy as leaders anticipated that codes, in the heat and stress of battle, might be compromised.
Wolf Guts might have been an exception. He remembered that General Mueller had ordered that both of them were to be shot by guards to avoid capture. To repeat, General Mueller ordered that he himself and his personal radio man were to be eliminated in the worst-case scenario. This order, however, may not have been so much a case of “protecting the code” as protecting the operational information that both general and radio man possessed.
Many Code Talkers themselves believed they would be killed. Both Wolf Guts and Crow Eagle recalled hearing Code Talkers from other units discussing the expected fate of anyone in their position. Wolf Guts and Crow Eagle had two bodyguards assigned to them.
Wolf Guts, like the other Code Talkers, kept quiet about his wartime missions and deeds. Not surprisingly, life changed for him dramatically after the military declassified official information about the Code Talkers’ missions and feats. In 2008, the Code Talkers Recognition Act was passed, honoring all Native American Code Talkers. Wolf Guts was among those who went to Congress to testify about these American Indian accomplishments. He spent the remaining months of his life as a celebrity, making appearances across the Nation and earning various accolades.
He did not live to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, which was awarded posthumously in 2013 to all Sioux Nation Code Talkers. When he died in 2010, all of his other brothers-in-arms had already preceded him. The most famous of the Sioux Nation Code Talkers became the last of the Sioux Nation Code Talkers.
7 November 2022 at 05:41
Very interesting history here, Mario! I first saw THE WIND TALKERS with my late wife at a theater in Missoula, Montana immediately after returning from a fire assignment with the USDA Forest Service in Dolores, Colorado in late August or early September 2002. For some years before THE WIND TALKERS was released, I had a large collection of VHS movies I’d purchased. When THE WIND TALKERS was released on DVD it was all the impetus necessary to get me to upgrade from VHS to DVD. This one movie was why I purchased my first DVD player. I have both DVD and Blu-ray versions of THE WIND TALKERS as well as an Amazon Prime cable and Internet version of this particular film.
I long suspected, just a hunch, the federal government—and the Marine Corps in particular—would not have had a regular policy of assigning “a body guard” to kill his Navajo code-talker companion in the event of imminent capture. Hollywood has always been Hollywood! And, of course, the Marine Corps goes to great length to “leave no Marine behind.”
While living in Utah between August 2011 and 2019, my current wife (that’s to say my late wife’s best friend) and I made many trips to southern Utah and Northern Arizona to visit Navajo code-talker territory. Goulding’s Lodge in Monument Valley had Navajo tour drivers who loved repeating second-hand information about the Navajo code talkers. Honestly speaking, until tonight, I had no idea the Navajo were not the only Native American code talkers to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II. Collectively, the code-talkers served our country and our armed forces extremely well!
(The View Hotel at Oljato, Arizona right at the entrance into the Arizona side of Monument Valley has an excellent display of Navajo code-talker related memorabilia on display—or did have such a display prior to March 2019.)
Thank you very much for another exceptional history lesson, Mario!
6 November 2022, Maunaloa (Molokai), Hawaii
7 November 2022 at 06:20
Outstanding history lesson, Mario. Only thing I noticed was spelling of Wolf Guts’s tribeal name.
If I recall correctly the tribe is the Oglala Sioux (no ‘a’ before the first ‘l’). Ogallala, Nebraska was
named for them — although also misspelled. I was in the graduating class of 1955 at Ogallala.
Thank you for more memories.
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