Comanche Code Talker Charles Chibitty Dies

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Charles Chibitty, 83, the last of the Comanche code talkers who used their native tongue to confound Hitler's forces during World War II, died July 20 of complications of diabetes at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa. He had been living at a Tulsa nursing home.

Mr. Chibitty, whose name means "holding on good" in Comanche, also was the last surviving hereditary chief of the tribe, the Comanche Nation reported. He was descended on his mother's side from Chief Ten Bears, known as one of the signers of the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867.

He was one of 17 Comanches from the Lawton, Okla., area who were selected in 1941 for special Army duty to provide the Allies with a language the Germans could not decipher. He served with the Army's 4th Infantry Division, 4th Signal Company.

The Comanche recruits created their code at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1941. "We compiled a 100-word vocabulary of military terms during training," Mr. Chibitty said in a 1999 interview with the Armed Forces Information Service. "The Navajo did the same thing. The Navajos became code talkers about a year after the Comanches, but there were over a hundred of them, because they had so much territory [in the Pacific Theater] to cover."

Mr. Chibitty landed at Utah Beach, one of 14 Comanches who hit the beaches of Normandy with Allied troops on D-Day. In presentations over the years, he recalled the first coded message he transmitted that day: "Five miles to the right of the designated area and five miles inland the fighting is fierce and we need help."

Because there was no Comanche word for "tank," the code talkers used their word for "turtle." "Bomber" became "pregnant airplane." "Hitler," Mr. Chibitty recalled, was "posah-tai-vo," or "crazy white man."

Two Comanches were assigned to each of the 4th Infantry Division's three regiments. They sent coded messages from the front line to division headquarters, where other Comanches decoded the messages. Some of the Comanches were wounded, but all survived the war. Their code was never broken.

"It's strange, but growing up as a child I was forbidden to speak my native language at school," Mr. Chibitty said in 2002. "Later my country asked me to. My language helped win the war, and that makes me very proud. Very proud."

Charles Joyce Chibitty was born in a tent near Medicine Park, Okla., a small community in the Wichita Mountains north of Lawton. Attending Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kan., he heard rumors not only of war but also of plans the military had to organize a native-speaking unit. He went home on Christmas break in 1940 and received his mother's permission to enlist.

The Army wanted 40 native speakers and managed to get 20. Three were sent home because they had dependents. Mr. Chibitty was one of the remaining 17 dispatched to Fort Benning and then to signal school at Fort Gordon, Ga.

As a radio man with the 4th Infantry Division, Mr. Chibitty took part in some of the fiercest fighting of the war, including the breakthrough at St. Lo, Hurtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge and the rescue of the "lost battalion." The division was the first American unit to participate in the liberation of Paris and the first infantry division to enter Germany.

Mr. Chibitty earned five campaign battle stars. In 1989, the French government honored the Comanche code talkers, including Mr. Chibitty, by presenting them with the Chevalier of the National Order of Merit.

In 1999, he received the Knowlton Award, which recognizes individuals for outstanding intelligence work, during a ceremony at the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.

In addition to his work as a code talker, Mr. Chibitty was a champion boxer in the Army. He had learned to fight at Haskell Indian School.

After his discharge, he lived in Oklahoma, primarily in Tulsa, and worked as a glazier. He also gained fame as a champion fancy war dancer and was invited by many tribes to dance at their powwows.

"He was very good at that," said Lanny Asepermy, a retired Army sergeant major who serves as head of the Comanche Indian Veterans Association. "It's very physically demanding, but Charles was like a butterfly floating."

His wife, Elaine Chibitty, died in 1994. He also was preceded in death by a son and a daughter.

Survivors include three grandchildren.

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