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COMANCHE CODE TALKER SHARES PRIDE IN SERVICE SIGNAL-SOLDIER HISTORY REVISITED

Story and Photos by Marc Frucht
  Published in Mountaineer Weekly July 20, 1990
  Comanche Code Talker Forrest Kassanavoid told
soldiers of 124th Sig BN to be proud of their lineage.
  "You have a special relationship with an Indian Tribe
in Oklahoma," he told them.
  Kassanavoid shared his World War II, 4th infantry div
experiences with the signal soldiers during a battalion
sponsored luncheon at Giuseppe's Depot Restaurant,
Tuesday afternoon.
  The military recruited Comanche, Navajo and Choctaw
Indians because their native language was harder to crack
than codes they came up with every day. The Germans and
Italians were never able to interpret any of the trans-
missions they'd intercepted which contained the Indian
languages.
  124th SIG BN boasts campaign history from WWII through
Vietnam including the Normandy invasion. Back then it was
called the 4th SIG CO, according to Kassanavoid. Organized
June 1, 1940 in the Harmony Church area of Fort Benning,
GA.; the 4th SIG worked under many commanding officers and
Kassanavoid remembers almost every single one.
  "Let's see," said the code talker, "first there was Capt.
Terrance Tulley. He was a West Point grad, 1920. Then we got
Capt. Arthur McCrarey, then 1st Lt. Seoul Christman. He became
the division signal officer until he was seriously wounded in
an air attack in Normandy. Then came Capt. Phillip Bragen, and
hmmmm, a Capt. Dunaway..." He then went on to share all of his
4th Infantry Division war stories with the signal soldiers.
  As a recruit, the code talker went from Fort Benning, GA.,
to Camp Gordon, now Fort Gordon and home of Army Signal School.
[Coincidently where Colonel Kaddaffy, Agosto Pinochet and Manuel
Noriega all took classes at one time or another.] From there he
went to Fort Dix, NJ; Camp Gordon Johnson for amphibious
training; Camp Jackson, SC and then Camp Joyce Kilmer, NJ
for his portcall.
  Destination?
  Liverpool, England, to regroup and train at Tibberton in
Devonshire, and then to invade Utah Beach.
  4th SIG was made up of five platoons, according to
Kassanavoid. HQ platoon contained the company clerks, mess
cooks, drivers, supply and maintainance soldiers. The Message
Center section was where the distribution came and went.
There was a radio section similar to what signal battalions
have today; and a "T-n-T" section. They handled all aspects
of telephone and telegraph, to include the division
switchboard. The wire people, Kassanavoid included, were
called the construction section.
  Street fighting was not fun from the construction section
point of view, according to Kassanavoid.
  "We had to lay all the wire along the streets. We'd tag 
the wires just like you still do today. But then the civilians
around town would take the tags as souvenirs."
  He said without tags, troubleshooting became "one hell of a
time."
  In wartime, light discipline didn't mean red lenses or quick
flicks of light that hopefully no one will notice. All wire 
construction was done in the dark.
  "You feel your way out there," he said. Out into the darkness
he went expecting a saboteur maybe, but hoping it was nothing
more than a short or a grounded wire. Most of the time he'd do
a quick fix, ring back to a switchboard and then dig in.
  Kassanavoid said that on D-Day, June 6, 4th SIG was right in
the middle of things. While the 7th Corps was bombarding Omaha
Beach, three battalions from the 4th Infantry Division invaded
at Utah. Paratroopers made a perfect landing at Utah Beach, but
the Navy dropped 4th SIG - along with their division - about a
half mile off because of choppy waters and changing tides.
  "Fortunate," said Kassanavoid. "It was pretty dry where we
landed. We didn't have to worry as much about water."
  They battled in what he termed 'hedgerow fighting.' He 
said farms were fenced off by nothing more than a series of 
hills pushed together and they had hedges on top. The signal 
soldiers were almost grounded to a halt by the hedges; until 
they called in for support. B-17s bombed every grid coordinate 
they hollered over their radios and they managed to break out.
  When they worked their way to Paris, he said all France had
was armored units, so 4th ID was asked to provide infantry
support. That made 4th SIG front line troops, as well as 
invasion forces.
  When the war ended, Kassanavoid was billeted in Amburg in
preparation for coming home. From there he went to Camp
Bruckner, N.C., where he was given 30 days furlough.
  Kassanavoid discussed how 4th ID has changed over the 
years as well as how it has stayed the same. Recruits didn't
come in right away as privates, according to the code talker.
His first four months he was called a "yardbird;" he was paid
$21 a month. After becoming a private, a soldier could take
in $30 a month. A "shackman" was someone married with
dependents. He said 4th ID had more shackmen than any other
division in the Army. He remarked at how many women there are
in today's signal corps. Back then they didn't see women 
working with radios or constructing wire.
  Back in Kassanavoid's time the signal soldier had generators
to power his equipment. Some were similar to the ones still in
use, but he said most of the time there was someone pushing a
hand-crank to generate a couple volts.
  He recognized the 5-gallon fuel cans being used in the 
signal battalion's motor pool and commented that we stole
that idea from the Germans after World War I. A couple cans
got into our hands somehow and we've been making them for use
on jeeps ever since.
  Kassanavoid said it was easy for a Comanche Indian to
adapt to military life because all of their early education
was at government boarding schools.
  "Basically we changed barracks rooms and uniforms," Said
Kassanavoid, "that's all."
  Army-run schools on the Indian reservations meant speaking
Comanche at home, and mostly English at school. His grasp of
both languages made him an easy recruit for the Code Talker
mission. Comanche language was used to relay some of the Army's
most important messages in WWII. The code talkers worked with
regiments in the field where they coded messages back to 4th ID
headquarters so another 4 SIG could receive and decode the
message.
  Kassanavoid lives in Indiahoma, OK., with his wife Marian
and three children - Larry who served in the Army infantry in
Vietnam; Marlon who served in a signal outfit in Europe; and
a daughter, Amaryllis.
  He now works for the school department in Indahoma as home-
school co ordinator under the Johnson - O'Malley Program passed
by Congress in 1934. His work is mostly youth-oriented, from
financial assistance for young Indians, morale and attendance
programs, as well as sports programs
  On Nov. 3, 1989, the French government awarded him the
Chevalier de l'Order National du Merite" medal on the steps
of Oklahoma's State Capitol. Two other surviving Comanche Code
Talkers received the medal. Charles Chibitty is from Tulsa,
and Dick Red Elk is from Lawton.
  "You soldiers can say with pride," Kassanavoid said, "that
you've been decorated by the French. Being singled out like
that is a great honor."
  He said the Comanche heritage is in a 124th SIG soldier's
lineage and in his roots.
  "Be proud," he said, "Be thankful."

      PFC Frucht was a MOUNTAINEER stringer for 
    124SIG at the time of this publishing. While 
    Kassanavoid was on Utah Beach, Frucht has a 
    great uncle who lived through Omaha beach as 
    a signal soldier, and an uncle who also saw 
    combat as a "radio man" in the marines. Frucht 
    learned of this long after signing up for the 
    army signal corps himself. Go figure.  

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