Joseph Oklahombi (1985-1960) was a member of the Choctaw Nation and an Oklahoma National Guardsman who served in Company D, 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, 36th Infantry Division. He is recognized as one of the Choctaw Code Talkers but that story has been covered before. The 1st /141st later became the “Lost Battalion” of WW2, also another story.
On October 8th, 1918, during the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge, which was in the Champagne Sector and was a French-led diversion to the main American attack at Meuse-Argonne, Private Oklahombi led 23 other soldiers who captured an important strong point near Saint-Étienne-à-Arnes and held off counter attacks, killing about 79 Germans and capturing 171 in the action. Oklahombi received a Divisional Citation (which was retroactively changed to the Silver Star after 1925), and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, the highest level of that award. At this time the members of the Choctaw nation were not U.S. citizens.
On the same day, about 40 km to the east at Chatel-Chéhéry in the Argonne Forest, then-Cpl. Alvin C. York, a draftee from Tennessee serving with the 82nd Division, led seven other men in an attack that killed 28 Germans and captured 132. York became America’s greatest hero of the war for this action, receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross and many foreign decorations.
It is certainly fair to ask why was York’s accomplishment considered so much greater than Oklahombi’s? Here’s an update that’s more recent than either of the biographies linked above:
“Many of you know the story of the Choctaw Code Talkers of WWI and WWII and also the story of Code Talker Joseph Oklahombi, who single-handedly captured 171 Germans after moving 200 yards over open ground against artillery and machine gun fire, rushing a machine gun nest and capturing one of the guns. He not only turned the gun on the enemy for four days, keeping them under fire, he was without food and water those four days, killing numerous enemy soldiers until the rest surrendered. Although …[retroactively] awarded … the Silver Star and Marshal Pétain, former Commander-in-Chief of the French Armies of the East, awarded him the Croix de Guerre, the Congressional Medal of Honor was never presented. It is a long-overdue recognition and I am working to see the Medal of Honor presented to Oklahombi.”
–Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, March 28th, 2016