TLINGIT CODE TALKERS

Tlingit Code Talkers

Alaska Natives and American Indians have served in the U.S. Armed Forces in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War and in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group. During World War II, more than 44,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives served in the U.S. military. More than 42,000 served during the Vietnam War as well. Today, an estimated 24,000 Native American and Alaska Native men and women are on active duty, and more than 150,000 veterans self-identify as American Indian or Alaska Native.

“During 48 hours on Iwo Jima, they say 800 Native language battle communications were received and translated. It took seconds, at a time when decoding by machines could take half an hour. The men undoubtedly saved lives.” 

Former House Speaker, John Boehner

Navajo code talkers have long been recognized for the crucial part they played in World War II. But until very recently, no one knew that Tlingit code talkers also used the Tlingit language as a code that the enemy was never able to crack. Even the families of the Tlingit code talkers did not know of their secret service. Because they maintained confidentiality, there may be other Tlingit code talkers who have not yet been identified. 

Congressional Medals

In November 2013, Congress awarded silver medals posthumously to Tlingit code talkers Robert “Jeff” David, Sr., Richard Bean, Sr., George Lewis, Jr., and brothers Harvey Jacobs and Mark Jacobs, Jr. Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Commander Ozzie Sheakley, who attended the Congressional ceremony in Washington, D.C. along with representatives from 32 other tribes whose members were also code talkers, received the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the Tlingit tribe.  

TLINGIT CODE TALKERS
George Lewis, Jr.
Photo credits: Left: COURTESY OF DIANE HOISINGTON. Right: COURTESY OF MOLLY PORTER

George Lewis, Jr.

Dakl’aweidí clan
Killer Whale House, Angoon
Kiks.ádi yádi
Chookaneidí dachxán
Feb. 8, 1913 – April 9, 1995

George Lewis, Jr., (Saa.aat’, Naagei, Xaakaayí) was a boat builder, carpenter, and mill worker from Sitka. He was active in fishing, boxing, silver carving, and carving totems and Tlingit helmets. In addition, George gave 45 years of service to the Salvation Army, was a lifetime member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood in Klawock and Haines, and was a fluent Tlingit speaker and storyteller. He served in the U.S. military in World War II.

Harvey Jacobs

Dakl’aweidí clan
Killer Whale House, Angoon
Deisheetaan yádi
Teikweidí dachxán
Nov. 24, 1921 – Nov. 23, 1979

Harvey Jacobs (Tleeyaa Kéet, Gaandawéi) was a fisherman from Sitka. When he and his brother, Mark Jacobs, Jr., joined the U.S. Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor, they skipped basic training and were put to work immediately on picket boats in Southeast Alaska and the Aleutians, and then in the South Pacific. Harvey was a Machinist Mate 1st Class.

Harvey Jacobs
Photo credits:  COURTESY OF HAROLD JACOBS
Mark Jacobs Jr.
Photo credits: COURTESY OF SEALASKA

Mark Jacobs, Jr.

Dakl’aweidí clan
Killer Whale House, Angoon
Deisheetaan yádi
Teikweidí dachxán
Nov. 28, 1923 – Jan. 13, 2005

Mark Jacobs, Jr., (Saa.aat’, Keet wú, Oodéishk’áduneek, Gusht’eihéen, Wóochxkaduhaa) was a fisherman, leader, and historian from Sitka. He had vast knowledge of Tlingit culture and held positions in many groups, such as the Alaska Native Brotherhood, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the National Congress of American Indians, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and Sealaska. Mark served four years in the U.S. military, nearly all of which were in sea duty and in war zones.

Richard Bean, Sr.

T’akdeintaan clan
Sockeye House, Hoonah
Chookaneidí dachxán
June 5, 1920 – Dec. 24, 1985

Richard Bean, Sr., (Joonalaxéitl) was a well-known commercial fisherman from Hoonah — a purse seiner, crabber, troller, and halibut fisherman. Richard was a lifetime member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, and a member of Sealaska, Huna Totem Corp., Juneau Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Sitka American Legion. He was also an elder in the Hoonah Presbyterian Church. He served in the South Pacific during World War II.

Richard Bean, Sr.
Photo credits: COURTESY OF VAL VELER
Robert “Jeff” David, Sr.
Photo credits: (Top RJDavid) : COURTESY OF SEALASKA. Above: COURTESY OF PETER METCALFE

Robert “Jeff” David, Sr.

Kaagwaantaan clan
Bear House, Haines
Lukaax.ádi yádi
Chookaneidí dachxán
April 12, 1924 – Sept. 6, 1986

Robert “Jeff” David, Sr., (Kaasgú Suk kees) was a fisherman and basketball legend from Haines who was known all over Southeast Alaska. One of Sealaska’s first board members, Jeff was described as charismatic, confident, and outspoken. However, his son, Jeff David, Jr., says his father never talked much about his service in World War II, other than that he served in the Philippines for part of it and was in special services.

Honoring our Nation’s Code Talkers