Edmond Harjo, one of the last surviving members of a group of American Indians who used their native languages to outmaneuver the enemy during World Wars I and II, died last week in Oklahoma. He was 96.
Edmond Harjo died March 31 at Mercy Hospital in Ada, according to the Swearingen Funeral Home. Harjo’s nephew, Richard Harjo, said his uncle had a heart attack.
Harjo, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, traveled to Washington, D.C., in November to take part in a ceremony where congressional leaders bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal, its highest civilian honor, on American Indian code talkers. The ceremony honored 33 tribes.
At the ceremony, House Speaker John Boehner described how Harjo, a member of the 195th Field Artillery Battalion, was walking through an orchard in southern France in 1944 and heard one of his fellow soldiers singing in the Creek dialect under a tree. A captain later heard the two soldiers talking, Boehner said, and immediately put them to work on opposite ends of a radio.
“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,” Boehner said. “And they made a difference. After serving with honor, they did the honorable thing. They kept their service a secret. Even to those that they loved.”
Richard Harjo said there was some controversy following the ceremony because his uncle had been under the impression the medal was being presented to him, not the tribe. But the ceremony and honor still meant a lot to him, Richard Harjo said.
Edmond Harjo was born on Nov. 24, 1917, in Maud. Harjo was a schoolteacher for most of his life and a classical pianist.
“He was kind of a distinct character,” his nephew said.
Edmond Harjo never married and had no children, Richard Harjo said. He is survived by several nieces and nephews.
A funeral service was held for Edmond Harjo on April 4 in Seminole.