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Subject: Louis Levi Oakes, last surviving Mohawk code talker

Dies at 94
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Date Posted: Thursday, May 30, 04:54:34am


AKWESASNE — Louis Levi Oakes was known across the nation for his service in World War II, when he was a member of an elite group of Native American “code talkers” whose use of their native languages to convey messages helped the Allies prevail.

But, until just a few years ago, he didn’t talk about his wartime experiences and was just “a good father” to his wife and children, his daughter Dora recalled Wednesday.

Oakes, who died Tuesday at the age of 94, saw action in the South Pacific, New Guinea and Philippines theaters in World War II. For his service, he received the third-highest military combat decoration for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States — the Silver Star.

More recently, Oakes was one of 17 Akwesasne Mohawks to receive the Congressional Silver Medal for his military contributions as a Native American code talker, after Congress in 2008 passed the Code Talkers Recognition Act to honor every code talker who served in the U.S. military. He was the last surviving Mohawk code talker.

But Oakes rarely talked about the part of his life that eventually earned him recognition.

“He just said he was in the war –– that’s as far as it went,” Dora Oakes recalled. He only began to open up about his time in the military three or four years ago, after he had received the congressional honor, she said.

Among his friends and family, Oakes was known more for his sense of humor and practical jokes than he was for his military service.

“He had a great sense of humor,” his son-in-law Mark O’Neil agreed. He also enjoyed spending time behind the wheel, particularly on his heavy farm equipment, O’Neil recalled.

Oakes would sometimes combine his love of practical jokes and his love of driving. He would drive slowly through Akwesasne “with 10 cars behind him blowing their horns,” O’Neil said.

But Oakes always treated people with respect, O’Neil said. By his actions, “you could just tell he was a special person,” he said. “He had a great spirit and a love for people” –– especially his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“He will be forever missed,” O’Neil said.

Oakes also received honors and recognition from organizations in both the U.S. and Canada, including 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 followed his induction on May 15, 2018, into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

Louis Levi Oakes, “Tahagietagwa,” was born Jan. 23, 1925, in St. Regis, Quebec, the son of the late Angus and Mary (Porke) Oakes. He attended schools on the reservation and later received his high school diploma through Operation Education in cooperation with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and Salmon River Central School.

At age 18, he entered the Army, where he served as a technician fifth grade with the Company B 442nd Signal Battalion. He received his formal military training as a code talker while stationed in Louisiana, along with other Akwesasne Mohawks, and served in the Pacific theater, where he earned the Silver Star. He was honorably discharged on Feb. 15, 1946.

After his discharge from the Army, he worked iron in the Buffalo area for 30 years before returning to Akwesasne. When he returned home, he started working for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Department of Public Works, where he retired as supervisor after 30 years of service.

He is survived by his children and their spouses, Diane and Herman Swamp, Louis Oakes, Raymond Oakes, Wally and Bonnie Oakes, Dora Oakes, Debbie Oakes and Mark O’Neil, and Joseph Oakes, all of Akwesasne; many grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren; and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins.

In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his wife Annabelle (Mitchell) Oakes; his sons Lawrence J. Oakes, Charles T. Oakes and Gaitlin Oakes; a son-in-law, Sam Garrow; his sister, Margaret Pyke; and his brothers, Samuel J. Oakes, Lawrence C. Oakes Sr., and John Oakes.

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Wow, I'd of course heard of Navajo code talkers, but not Mohawk! (NT)!Thursday, May 30, 04:08:45pm

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