Last living Mohawk code talker for WWII, Louis Levi Oakes, dies at age 94
Last December, the 96-year-old World War II veteran and Mohawk language speaking code talker Levi Oakes was honored in the Canadian House of Commons for his contributions to the allied forces in combat. He was also invited by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to receive a personal thank you for his service. Earlier in 2018, Oakes was visited at his home by Canadian Politician and Quebec Liberal MP Marc Miller, who spoke the Mohawk language as a gesture of respect to Oakes at his home.
After service as a Mohawk speaking code talker, Akwesasne Mohawk elder Louis Levi Oakes has passed away at the age of 94.
In a release, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe issued a statement from his home of Akwesasne, New York. “It is with a heavy heart that the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe has joined in sharing condolences for the loss of a beloved Akwesashró:non — Louis Levi Oakes. Oakes was an enrolled tribal member and the last remaining Akwesasne Mohawk Code Talker who served during World War II. He touched the lives of everyone who met him and will be missed by many, particularly by his loved ones.”
The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe also released biographical information about Oakes to include his birth in Akwesasne in 1922, and his joining the Army at the age of 18.
Louis Levi Oakes was born on the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne in 1922 and, following the onset of World War II, registered for the U.S. Army at the age of 18. He received his formal military training as a code talker while stationed in Louisiana, along with other Akwesasne Mohawks. He was assigned as a Technician 4th Grade with Company B’s 442nd Signal Battalion in the U.S. Army.
During his six years of military service, TEC 4 Oakes saw action in the South Pacific, New Guinea and Philippines theatres in World War II. For his exemplary service, he received the third-highest military combat decoration for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States — The Silver Star. He served with distinction and received an honorable discharge on Enníska/February 15, 1946.
Throughout World War II, Louis Levi Oakes’s knowledge and usage of Kanien’keha (Mohawk language) was used to send communications between U.S. forces. It was one of 33 Native languages used during World War II to code important messages, which became known the world over as the only unbroken military code in history.
To recognize their role in helping the Allied Forces to be victorious, in 2008 the U.S. Congress passed the Code Talkers Recognition Act to honor every Native American Code Talker who served in the U.S. military, including Louis Levi Oakes. As a result, Oakes was one of 17 Akwesasne Mohawks to receive the Congressional Silver Medal for his military contributions as a Native American Code Talker on Onerahtohkó:wa/May 28, 2016.
Louis Levi Oakes received further recognition for his valor as an Akwesasne Mohawk Code Talker at the 2017 United South and Eastern Tribes Impact Week, Rochester Nighthawks Native American Night (Tsiothohrkó:wa/January 7, 2017), 2018 Salamanca Powwow, 2018 Hopi Code Talkers Recognition Day, 2018 Special Chiefs Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations and the Canadian House of Commons, among others.
On Ohiarí:ha/June 8, 2018; Akwesasne Mohawk Code Talker and Congressional Silver Medal Recipient Louis Levi Oakes was presented with the New York State Liberty Medal — the highest civilian honor bestowed by New York State upon individuals who have merited special commendation for exceptional, heroic, or humanitarian acts and achievements. The award follows his induction on Onerahtohkó:wa/May 15, 2018 into the New York State Senate Veteran’s Hall of Fame.
In the last years of his life, Oakes was still active in carrying the message forward about his contributions as a Mohawk code talker. In January of 2017, Oakes participated at a ceremony at the professional lacrosse Rochester Knighthawks game, in which he was honored for his service as a code talker.
In May of 2018, as reported by Indian Country Today, Quebec Liberal MP Marc Miller, the first Canadian politician to speak Mohawk in the Canadian House of Parliament, made a surprise visit to Louis Levi Oakes to honor him and present him with a medal to honor his service as a code talker. He also read Oakes a letter of thanks in the Mohawk language.
Miller tweeted: “In Akwesasne today, I had the immense pleasure to recognize a hero in Levi Oakes, last remaining Mohawk Code Talker. A secret even to his family until very recently, Levi’s use of Kanien’kéha code during WWII saved lives and remained unbroken by the enemy.”
In December of 2018, Oakes was honored publicly by the Canadian House of Commons, the Assembly of First Nations and was invited to receive a personal meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who thanked him for his service.
When being recognized in the House of Commons, accompanied by thunderous applause, Oakes smiled and gave a thumbs up. Oakes also received an honor blanket with a star design and AFN beaded medallion necklace. The blanket was draped around Oakes' shoulders by AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde.
On Wednesday, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne tweeted a heartfelt goodbye. “It is with a heavy heart that the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne has learned about the passing of Louis Levi Oakes. Levi peacefully entered into the spirit world surrounded by his loved ones on May 28, 2019.”
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling