This is Gilbert Horn Sr, one of the last remaining Native American Code Talkers from WWII. Unfortunately, Horn passed away last week at the age of 92, but he is not forgotten. As well as for his continual help and support of his people of the Fort Belknap Reservation in Northern Montana, Horn is still honored and remembered for being a Native American Code Talker, one of many American Indians who used their native tongues to comprise a code in WWII that ended up being a key part in our victory over Germany and its allies. Few people could deny the impact that Horn and others like him have had on our country.
But that is only a small part of what makes Horn great. Horn is more than a hero because he readily and willingly put aside generations of anger and hatred in order to use the talents that others tried to take away from him–so that he could help those same people. Under the same circumstances, I am not sure I would have or could have done what he did. He was a greater American than I am, and a better person.
You see, the thing about WWII Code Talkers is that they used their own language and history to create a code so difficult that it could not be translated by the enemy. They drew upon their own past, their own native tongues all while knowing that those were the same pasts and tongues that our government tried to systematically destroy through generations of oppression, racism, and boarding schools. We would not have had Code Talkers, or (possibly) an ultimate victory in WWII if our government had succeeded in its original goal to “acclimate” Indigenous People. Had we successfully destroyed Native culture, our own culture could have been arguably lost in the long run.
In a world that had treated Horn and other Indigenous People like they were less than human because their culture was “different” and “wrong,” he still found it in himself to use the gifts and knowledge of that culture to help save the people that, in his childhood, would have tried to beat it out of him.
Our homes are built atop the bodies of people we were able to successfully beat down; but our victories are built atop the successes of those whom we could not.
The only reason that we had Code Talkers at all in WWII is because some people refused to forget their people, their history, and their pride when outside forces tried to make them. Our nation, and everything that makes it great, is built on the basis that we are all different, all beautiful in our uniqueness. Forcing those that are different to “acclimate”– to tear off their headdresses and headscarves– only weakens us as a whole. And holding hatred in our hearts towards any people, no matter their past circumstances, only weakens us as individuals.
I think Horn knew this. I think he lived by it. And I think that that’s why he was able to do what I could not have done– he was able to put aside “us and them” and see something bigger.
A good rest to you, Gilbert Horn. Thank you for what you’ve done for us, shown us, and taught us.