Kansas WW1

Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

Native Americans in the Great War – Pvt. Joseph Oklahombi

36th Division shoulder patch WW1 era

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.

36th Division parade helmet WW1 era

Here are two excellent biographies of Joseph Oklahombi, one from the Doughboy Center and the other from our sister state historical society.

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

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official living in Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and has memberships in the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Indian Military Historical Society and the Salonika Campaign Society.

2 Comments

  1. Travis L. Steward (USA/RET)

    July 23, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    I am 100 percent behind seeing this soldier receiving what he rightly deserved. I myself am a decorated retired soldier but never had to do what he did and I find it a shame that he was not awarded the Medal of Honor ( I personally feel it had to do with the racism at the highest levels of command in 1918. I hope when Congress sees what he did they will realize he did more then Sgt Alvin York who awarded this medal along with several others.I am not saying Sgt York wasn’t deserving he was but Pvt Oklahombi was even more so.

  2. Thank you…The Choctaw Code Talkers never received the honor they deserved while alive. They did so much durning The Great War. Served and fought for a country, U.S. of A., when not recongized as being a citizen. I’ve always been taught that OUR NATION the Choctaw Nation is a government within a government. Very true… Thank goodness we were because we Choctaws sure took a firm stand in Europe in the War to End All Wars.

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