At 11 a.m. on Nov. 20, at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., Osage Nation Principal Chief Red Eagle, Assistant Principal Chief Scott Bighorse, Osage Veteran John Henry Mashunkashey, his wife Ahnawake Mashunkashey, and Osage Congressman John Maker were among those invited to the White House to receive the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal honoring World War I and II Osage veterans who spoke Osage over military radio during combat.
The award ceremony, held in Emancipation Hall, was attended by more than 35 tribes.
John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, presented Chief Red Eagle with a three-inch gold coin in a polished, velvet-lined box to commemorate the Osage veterans who spoke the Osage language during combat in World War I and World War II.
After the gold medals were presented, a reception was held at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian. At this event, silver medals were given to families who had Native American members of their family who served in the military in World War I.
This was the first time that Osage Code Talkers had been honored for their efforts during World War I.
"We had code talkers in artillery and infantry, who spoke to one another on radios calling information back and forth about incoming rounds," said Mr. Mashunkashey.
"Previously the tribes had been reluctant to talk about their code talking during World War I and II. President George W. Bush made it public so that we could talk about it," Mr. Mashunkashey said. "The Navajo code talkers were honored first because they had a program that was developed by the Marine Corps during World War II."
Later, Code Talkers were acknowledged in the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008, he explained.
"The U.S. Mint and the Department of Defense contacted Chief’s office in 2010," Mashunkashey said.
Images of the proposed coin were sent to Chief Red Eagle for his consideration and he asked John Henry and Ahnawake Mashunkashey to assist in approving the coin’s design. The coin depicts Osage Code Talkers on the front and the Osage seal on the back of the coin.
A silver version of this coin is available to families who have Osage World War I veterans within their families, once a verification process by the Department of Defense has been done.
If families have knowledge of Osage World War I veterans within their family, they may provide proof through written documents and photos of the veteran submitted to the Department of Defense. The Osage Tribal Museum and Library has a list of Osages who served in World War I, and are willing to share this information with families seeking the information. This information may be shared with Mr. Mashunkashey who will assist in forwarding the information to the Department of Defense. His e-mail is: email@example.com. (Note that this is a new e-mail address).
The U.S. Mint is already offering bronze versions of the coins in two sizes for purchase on its website at www.usmint.gov.
Mr. Mashunkashey, an Osage tribal member from Pawhuska, enlisted and served in the Marine Corps from 1965 – 1969. After being stationed in Kodiak, Alaska, in a military police position, he was sent to Vietnam where he achieved the rank of Corporal Rifleman. Mr. Mashunkashey was given the Purple Heart for his military service, following a wound sustained in Vietnam. Active in several veteran organizations, Mr. Mashunkashey is the Marine Corps League Oklahoma Department Commandant, the Osage Detachment 669 Commandant for the Marine Corps League, a member of the Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion Post 198 in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
His wife Ahnawake Mashunkashey is the Second Vice President of the American Legion Post 198 Auxiliary, and is a life Auxiliary member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and is a member of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
Speaking about the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, Mr. Mashunkashey said, "I felt very good about the job they did."
He explained that Native Americans served in World War I, which ended in 1918, although they were not made U.S. citizens until 1924.
Chief Red Eagle, who accepted the award on behalf of the Osage Nation said, "It was a very honorable experience to be there to accept this for all the veterans who served in these wars. I had a sense that we were representing all Osage veterans."
He added, "We want the Osage people and the Osage veterans to know about this honor."
Assistant Chief Scott Bighorse said, "We were honored to accept this beautiful gold coin on behalf of all of the Osages who spoke the Osage language during combat."