Seminole code talker Edmond Harjo dies at 96

Edmond Harjo of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, one of the last surviving code talkers, places his hand over his heart as the American flag is presented during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20, 2013. Harjo, 96, died March 31 in Ada. AP file

SEMINOLE — 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, has died. He was 96.

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.

A service was held April 4 in Seminole. Harjo was buried in Seminole Nation Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Seminole.

Harjo, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, traveled to Washington, D.C., last November to take part in a ceremony where congressional leaders bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress' highest civilian honor, on American Indian code talkers. The ceremony honored 33 tribes.

At the ceremony, House Speaker John Boehner recalled how Harjo, a member of the Army's 195th Field Artillery Battalion, was walking through an orchard in southern France in 1944 and heard one of his fellow soldiers singing under a tree in the Creek dialect. 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."

The ceremony and honor meant a lot to Harjo, his nephew said.

"He sought to do what was right and wanted that same recognition in return," Richard Harjo said.

Harjo finished his service with the rank of private first class and received the Good Conduct Medal.

Born on Nov. 24, 1917, in Maud, Edmond Harjo would live in the Maud and Seminole areas for most of his life.

He was a schoolteacher and taught many years for Maud Public Schools and Pickett-Center school in Ada.

Harjo was also a longtime member of the Achena Presbyterian Church in Maud, where he was a church elder and officer.

"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.

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