The sound of machine gun fire at the end of the telephone line nearly made Jim’s words unintelligible. I jotted the words as fast as I could. Parker kept his ear next to mine as I pressed it to the field phone. “What’d he say?” Parker asked as I replaced the receiver on the unit. I handed him my translation. Parker half smiled down at me from his now straightened position. “Not bad – ‘Cody’.”
“Name’s not Cody, it’s Solomon Bond Louis.”
“I know, but ya gotta admit – it fits.”
Ben Caterby’s hand on my shoulder kept my mouth in a still line as Parker handed the translated message to the commanding officer and faced me again with crossed arms and half smile. His words were directed at Sergeant Hemp, using his typical Texas draw. “What’ya think, Sergeant? He givin’ it to us straight? He’s not even an American citizen, ya know.”
Sergeant Hemp pulled the cigarette from his yellowing teeth. “But he is an American soldier.”
Parker punched at my shoulder. “Cody’s alright even if he is an injun. We’ll make a first rate transmitter outta him yet.”
I didn’t look up to Caterby’s face until Parker had moved down the trench line. I pitched my head in his direction. “He don’t think we can do it. He’ll see. Our Choctaw language is gonna help us win this war.”
Caterby knelt next to me. He tapped the field phone unit. “Keep at your work, Louis.”
“I am but-“
“If you gonna think on something, think of our ancestor’s struggles and victories. Our grandparents walked the long trail from Mississippi. Our fathers fought in the Spanish-American War. We’re warriors. We fight with what the Creator gives us.”
Two hours later, a shout sounded further up the trench. “Hey! Some of you guys give us a hand!”
The distant sound of another grenade exploding reached us. I stood and Caterby nodded as he took my position by the field phone to await the next call from Jim, who was on the front line.
I wished I’d stayed with the phone as I was jostled into place to help carry stretchers of wounded men from the front. I shivered, but not from the French October air. The stench of dirt mixed with blood was strongest here. I grabbed the foot end of a stretcher, not wanting to look at the agonized face of my burden. A laugh and the voice from the stretcher brought my head around. “Good from your end, Louis. My message come alright?”
“Jim! I thought –“
“A sniper got my leg right after I transmitted that message. But it’s workin’, Solomon. The German’s can’t decode our language.”
I lowered my end of the stretcher inside the hospital tent and then knelt by Jim. I let my eyes follow the line of blood drenching his pant leg. My jaw was stiff when I asked, “It hurt much?”
Jim chuckled. “Ha, I’ve hurt worse playin’ football back at Armstrong Academy. Except…” His pause gave time for his face to grow more somber. “Brown and Frazier got the sniper. I seen him after. He was young – really young.” Jim looked up at me. “Pray for his family.”
As I left Jim to return to my post, I wondered if the young sniper had lied about his age to join the military as I had.
“Hey Cody, come’ere a minute.”
I almost ignored Parker’s call but when I saw the German soldiers near him, I stopped.
Parker continued. “We just took on some more prisoners. They wanna know what nationality we had codin’ the transmissions.” Parker boomed out a laugh. “First code they haven’t been able ta break.”
I stood next to Parker, my head just the height of his shoulder. I observed the new prisoners. “What’d they tell ‘em?”
“I ain’t sure, but I know what I’d say.” Parker took a step to the side and faced me with arms crossed. “Just Americans, bud. Just Americans.” He winked down at me.
I mimicked Parker’s half smile and winked back.
Author’s Note: This fictional account is based on documented stories of the original Choctaw Code Talkers. The Choctaws were the first ‘code talkers’ of World War I and this secret weapon was continued by them and other tribes during World War II.
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