Last Akwesasne Mohawk WWII ‘code talker’ dies
Louis Levi Oakes, center, died on Tuesday. On May 28, 2016, he received the Congressional Silver Medal from Rep. Elise Stefanik, right. At left is Michael Cook, commander of the Akwesasne American Legion.AKWESASNE -- The last remaining World War II Mohawk code talker has died.
Louis Levi Oakes, an enrolled tribal member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, passed away Tuesday. He “touched the lives of everyone who met him and will be missed by many, particularly by his loved ones,” the tribe said in a news release.
Oakes was born on the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne in 1922 and, following the onset of World War II, 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 the U.S. Army.
During his six years of military service, Oakes saw action in the South Pacific, New Guinea and Philippines theaters. For his exemplary service, he received the third-highest military combat decoration for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States, the Silver Star. He received an honorable discharge on Feb. 15, 1946.
Throughout World War II, Oakes’s knowledge and usage of Kanien’keha (Mohawk language) was used to send communications between U.S. forces. It was one of 33 Native languages used during World War II to code important messages, which became known the world over as the only unbroken military code in history.
To recognize their role in helping the Allied Forces to be victorious, in 2008 the U.S. Congress passed the Code Talkers Recognition Act to honor every Native American Code Talker who served in the U.S. military, including Oakes. As a result, 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.
Oakes received further recognition for his valor as an Akwesasne Mohawk Code Talker at the 2017 United South and Eastern Tribes Impact Week, Rochester Nighthawks Native American Night (Jan. 7, 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, Oakes was presented with the New York State Liberty Medal — the highest civilian honor bestowed by New York State upon those who have merited special commendation for exceptional, heroic, or humanitarian acts and achievements. It followed his induction on May 15, 2018 into the New York State Senate Veteran’s Hall of Fame.