By GRISELDA NEVAREZ
Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX - Maxine Wadsworth's father never told her that he was among 10 members of the Hopi Tribe who served as code talkers during World War II. It wasn't until she spoke with another code talker that she learned about Orville Wadsworth's role.
Now she and others in her tribe want that service recognized alongside the exploits of Navajo code talkers, and they are supporting legislation to do just that.
"The (Hopi) people have waited for something like this to happen for quite a while, especially those that knew from the beginning that they had contributed something very positive to the preservation of this country," Wadsworth said.
Eugene Talas, director of Hopi Veterans Affairs, speaks at a news conference at which tribal officials and lawmakers discussed a resolution to honor Hopi Tribe members who served as code talkers during World War II.
(Cronkite News Service Photo by Beth Easterbrook)
During Indian Nation and Tribes Legislative Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted unanimously to endorse a resolution that would formally honor the 10 members of the Hopi Tribe who served as code talkers.
SCR 1009, sponsored by Sen. Jack Jackson Jr., D-Flagstaff, also would encourage schools to teach about the contributions of the Hopi and other Native American code talkers.
The U.S. military employed members of 17 tribes during WWII to transmit messages in their native languages. Their efforts confounded enemy troops and were credited with saving countless lives.
The 400 Navajo code talkers, who were employed by the Marine Corps and developed their own code, became national heroes when their exploits were revealed decades later.
A statue dedicated outside the State Capitol in 2008 honors Navajo code talkers. After a resolution honoring Navajo code talkers passed last year, it was only right to honor members of the Hopi Tribe who also served in that role, said Eugene Talas, director of Hopi Veterans Affairs.
"The Hopi people are very humble and don't expect any glory or recognition, but for the most part they are supportive that we are finally recognizing the Hopi code talkers," Talas said.
The resolution is long overdue, but the timing is right, said Jackson, who is a member of the Navajo Nation.
"I think things have a way of working out for the better," he said.
Orville Wadsworth, Maxine's father, died in 1969 from complications of alcoholism. She said the resolution gives her family a positive way to remember him.
"It's been very difficult seeing a man of honor ... die in such a manner," she said. "It was very difficult for my family, so this is closure for our family."
Rosa Honani said her grandfather, Perry Honani Sr., wouldn't have wanted to be acknowledged for his service as a Hopi code talker.
"They took lives, and that's something they didn't want to be recognized for," she said. But Hopi Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa said Arizonans should know about the Hopi code talkers.
"We feel that it is important that the state of Arizona and this great nation of ours know the history of what our people did for this country," he said.
There are no surviving Hopi code talkers.
SCR 1009 was headed to the Senate floor by way of the Rules Committee. At a news conference following the vote, lawmakers who are part of the Native American Caucus also discussed plans to honor the 14 Native Americans who served in previous legislative sessions. Some of those former lawmakers were present.
James Henderson, a Navajo who served in the Senate from 1985 to 1998, said a resolution would recognize the hard work of Native American lawmakers.
"A lot of them they did represent their people, and they did a lot of good for their districts," Henderson said.
Hopi code talkers who would be honored under SCR 1009:
- Franklin Shupla
- Warren Koiyaquaptewa
- Frank Chapella
- Travis Yaiva
- Charles Lomakema
- Percival Navenma
- Perry Honani Sr.
- Floyd Dann Sr.
- Rex Pooyouma
- Orville Wadsworth