Designating and Marking I-90 the ‘Ho-Chunk World War II Code Talkers Memorial Highway’

By Ardith Van Riper, Editor

     The Wisconsin State Senate approved a historic bill designating a section of Interstate 90 as the “Ho-Chunk World War II Code Talkers Memorial Highway.”  The stretch of highway will span from the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line in La Crosse to the intersection of I-90 and I-94 in Monroe County.  This corridor has the most significant number of Ho-Chunk Members near it, in addition to being part of the Nation’s ancestral homelands.

     The Ho-Chunk Nation officially has 14 World War II Veterans listed with the Department of Defense as Code Talkers.  Sandy Winneshiek worked for nearly five years to get their approval.

     According to research and work done by Sandy Winneshiek when she began her tour of duty as the Ho-Chunk Nation Tribal Veterans Service Officer in April 2012, the World War II Veterans approved for the Code Talker designation that was initially approved in 2013: Alvin Blackdeer, U.S. Navy; Donald Blackdeer, U.S. Army; Irvin Blackdeer, U.S. Army; George Green, KIA-U.S. Army; Donald Greengrass, U.S. Army; Adam Littlebear, Jr., KIA-U.S. Army; and Alfred O. Stacy, U.S. Army.

     Thanks to Sandy Winneshiek’s additional work and dedication, seven more veterans were approved as Code Talkers in March 2016: Bill Whitebear, U.S. Army; Benjamin Winneshiek, U.S. Army; Bill Mike, U.S. Army; Jesse Mike, U.S. Army; Clifford Blackdeer, U.S. Army; Emanuel Thundercloud, U.S. Army; and Howard Littlejohn, U.S. Army.

     Code Talkers were American soldiers who used native languages to communicate secretly during wartime.  The term is now usually associated with the United States soldiers during the world wars who used their knowledge of Native American languages as a basis to transmit coded messages that were indecipherable to enemy forces.

     The United States Military developed policies to train and recruit Native soldiers to serve during World War II.  However, the Code Talkers’ service was classified, difficult to discern, not recognized in their discharge papers, and made it difficult to acknowledge their contributions during the war.

     Sandy Winneshiek began the initiative in April 2019 working with Senator Jeff Smith.  They wanted a memorial dedicated to the 14 Code Talkers.  Winneshiek requested Donald Greengrass offer his support while he was the Andrew Blackhawk Post 19 commander.

     The Assembly Bill 678 was by Representatives VanderMeer, Considine, Kurtz, Allen, C, Anderson, Armstrong, Bare, Billings, Conley, Dallman, Dittrich, Doyle, Edming, Emerson, Joers, Krug, Magnafici, Maxey, Melotik, Moore Omokunde, Mursau, O’Connor, Ohnstad, Ortiz-Velez, Oldenburg, Penterman, Rozar, Spiros, Tittle and Chankland; cosponsored by Senators Testin, James, Smith, and Pfaff.          

     Ho-Chunk Nation Representatives Kristin White Eagle and Shelby Visintin, along with Sandy Winneshiek and Donald Greengrass testified during the Assembly Public Hearing for the Committee on Transportation on January 30.

     In part, their testimony included, “Native American soldiers from thirty-three tribes from across the country, including three from Wisconsin, served as Code Talkers during World War II.  To date, the Department of Defense has recognized and listed 14 World War II Veterans from the Ho-Chunk Nation who served as Code Talkers, marking the Ho-Chunk Nation and its members as one of the most recognized tribal nations for its Code Talkers.”

     Additionally, their testimony said, “Preserving the legacy of the Code Talkers is crucial to honoring their service to the American people and to Nation, and their contributions towards preserving native language for future generations.  By designating that portion of I-90 as the Ho-Chunk World War II Code Talkers Memorial Highway, we are honoring their memory and service.”