WASHINGTON, DC – This morning, leaders of the U.S. House and Senate honored Native American code talkers in a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony held in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. The medal – Congress’s highest expression of appreciation – was awarded in recognition of the valor and dedication of these code talkers as members of our Armed Forces during World War I and World War II. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made the following remarks opening the ceremony, as prepared for delivery:
“Ladies and gentlemen, good morning and welcome to the United States Capitol.
“Today we meet to immortalize men who we are, in a way, meeting for the first time.
“Like Edmond Harjo, a member of the Seminole Nation, and during the Second World War, a member of the 195th Field Artillery Battalion.
“One day in 1944, he was walking through an orchard in southern France and heard one of his brethren singing under a tree. He recognized the dialect as Creek. Later on, a captain heard the two talking, and immediately put them to work on opposite ends of a radio.
“That coincidence brought these men on to the stage of history, alongside that elite band we call ‘code talkers.’
“Edmond is with us today, and I ask you to join me in thanking him for his service.
“Edmond and his brothers were at Normandy. They were on Iwo Jima. They mobilized the simplest weapon – language – to thwart the fiercest enemy free people have ever known.
“They made a difference.
“After serving with honor, they did the honorable thing and kept their service a secret. Even to those they loved.
“These wives, daughters, and sons, aching to give back to those who gave up so much for them, dedicated much of their own lives to unfurling the truth. Not for gain or glory, but just so people would know. ‘It’s the story that’s important,’ one of them said.
“Many of these families are with us today. Please join me in applauding their perseverance.
“Because of them, deeds that may well have been relegated to legend will now live on in memory. And heroes who for too long went unrecognized will now be given our highest recognition.
“Since the days of the Revolution, it has been the custom of this Congress to award gold medals in honor of great acts and contributions. The first recipient was a general by the name of George Washington in the year 1776.
“Many names are put forward. Few receive the approval of both houses and the signature of the president of the United States.
“Today – pursuant to H.R. 4544 – we will recognize 33 tribes for dedication, for valor, and for sharing what may be the toughest code: what it takes to be the bravest of the brave.
“They say every medal tells a story. By adding these men to such lofty ranks, we also mean to add their story. One worth honoring today. One worth re-telling every day.
“Thank you all for being here.”