On August 21, 1918, British forces began attacking German positions along a 10-mile stretch of the Western Front in northwest France. The assault was part of the World War I action now known as the Somme Offensive.

Attached to the British troops fighting in the region were the 119th and 120th U.S. Infantry Regiments, which both contained a number of Cherokee soldiers from western North Carolina.

In last September and early October as the offensive continued and preparations were underway to break through the German defensive positions known as the Hindenburg Line, the commanders in the area discovered that German troops were intercepting their telephone communications. The Germans then used those messages to discover the position of Allied forces and attack them.

That’s where the Cherokee came in. The signal officers at the time guessed that the Germans wouldn’t be able to understand the Cherokee language, and instructed Cherokee troops to deliver messages by telephone in their native tongue. The tactic proved to be a success.

The Cherokee “code talkers” were the first known use of Native Americans in the American military to transmit messages under fire, and they continued to serve in this unique capacity for rest of World War I. Their success was part of the inspiration for the better-known use of Navajo code talkers during World War II.

It is reported that Cherokees were used in the message relaying capacity until the end of WWI. The Cherokee men who served in this heroic role did so even before they held American citizenship and, consequently, the right to vote, which was not granted to most Native Americans until 1924.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI in 1918. Recently, the Intertribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes passed a resolution honoring the warriors and code talkers of WWI with a “Day of Remembrance” for their service and valor. Veterans from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole tribes have served in every military branch and in every U.S. war.

Today there are thousands of Cherokee veterans around the world. Native Americans, Cherokees in particular, have a longstanding history of serving the military at a higher rate per capita than any other ethnic group, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. We salute and celebrate these individuals who have given so much.

Responses to "World War One: Remembering the Service of Cherokee Code Talkers"

  1. I think you may want to look at the photos here. Then contact me by email, please. These men went to their graves with their secret and have been dishonored enough by the country they fought to protect. My Dad left his book behind, and I posted photos here. Please look. Wado.

  2. Email:

  3. Sorry, here is the link. Dad left this with his USMC badges, his USMC Kepi hat and this book with his handwriting. It is bound in steel that would probably turn a bullet. Enjoy!

  4. Haru says:

    Questions are being raised on FB concerning the title. Weren't the 'code talkers' unique to WWII?

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