A letter received by Eau Claire attorney Ed Manydeeds last month contained not only a tie to his family’s past home along the North Dakota-South Dakota border but unearthed a previously unknown secret as well.
The letter from the veterans affairs division of the Standing Rock Native American tribe and a subsequent phone call revealed that the grandfather — Edmund Manydeeds — for whom Ed is named will be honored on Friday for his work as a military code talker during World War I.
“It was a complete surprise,” Ed, 66, said of learning his grandfather was a code talker in that war. “None of us in the family had any idea he was involved with that.”
The elder Manydeeds will receive recognition from the military during a ceremony at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation for his long-ago effort on behalf of America. He will be part of 18 Native American code talkers who will receive posthumous congressional medals for their service.
Ed’s brother and another grandson of Edmund Manydeeds, Eau Claire County Judge John Manydeeds, said he too was surprised to learn his grandfather had been a code talker. Code talkers were Native Americans who during World Wars I and II transmitted sensitive military information using formal or informally developed codes built upon their native languages.
Those messages were especially difficult for Germans and other nations at war with the U.S. to decode because of those nations’ unfamiliarity with Native American languages.
Code talking is more well-known for having occurred during World War II, when bilingual Navajo speakers were specially recruited by the Marines to serve in communications units in the Pacific Theater. Code talking, however, was pioneered during World War I by Native Americans like Edmund Manydeeds.
“We never knew anything about my grandpa having been involved with any of that,” John, 58, said. “It was a nice surprise to learn that he was doing that and that he and others are being honored for that work on behalf of their country.”
Perhaps it isn’t surprising, John said, that family members didn’t know about his grandfather’s unusual military service, given that the elder Manydeeds died in 1952, two years after Ed was born and before John’s birth. “And my dad (Edmund Manydeeds II, who served in World War II) didn’t talk about his time in the military that much, or about Grandpa’s military service,” John said.
Ed discovered another reason for his grandfather’s code-talking secret when he called military officials after receiving the letter.
“I was told the code talkers took an oath of secrecy,” Ed said. “So my grandfather apparently took this oath, and none of us ever knew anything about what he did during World War I.”
Given his relatively early death and the lack of tribal records, Ed and John Manydeeds said there are gaps in their knowledge of their grandfather.
They are unsure of his birth date, they said, but they believe it was in the late 1890s. They know he is part of the Hunkpapa people, part of the Lakota people. They know he is buried at the Standing Rock reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. They know he was a large man who was an excellent athlete, good enough to play on many tribal baseball teams.
According to family lore, Edmund Manydeeds was such a good ballplayer that in 1919 he made the roster of the Chicago White Sox Major League Baseball team but returned home after he became homesick. That team subsequently went down in baseball history as the Chicago Black Sox, a moniker given after team members were found to have purposefully lost World Series games that year in a scandal involving organized crime that prompted a national uproar.
“It’s pretty amazing to think of him being linked to all of that history,” John said.
Edmund Manydeeds went on to play baseball for many teams, traveling frequently to play the game he loved, John said. “My grandpa basically lived wherever he could play baseball,” John said.
When John attends Friday’s ceremony to honor his grandfather and other code talkers, he will reflect on the important service Edmund Manydeeds provided his country during war. He will contemplate the history associated with the moment. And he will think about the willingness of Native people to help a country that didn’t even count them as citizens until 1924.
“At that point, Native peoples were really trying to prove that they belonged in this country,” John said. “They were working on behalf of a country they weren’t even allowed to be members of.”
Ed had planned to attend the event at which his grandfather will be honored but had to bow out because of illness in his extended family. He is glad his siblings will attend the ceremony that has prompted thoughts about how he grew up in the Dakotas and then in northern Wisconsin, and how his parents taught him and his brothers and sisters about hard work, community involvement and, most of all, the value of education. He likes to think some of those values taught by his dad were passed down by his grandfather.
Both John and Ed said they feel a sense of pride about their grandfather’s role in World War I and for the recognition of him and other Native Americans involved with that effort.
“These people weren’t just sitting on the sideline during those conflicts,” Ed said, “and that is something to be proud of.”
John concurred with that sentiment, saying “this is definitely a source of price for me and my family.” He looks forward not only to seeing his grandfather and others honored, he said, but to perhaps learning more about Edmund Manydeeds.
“Now that we know a bit about my grandpa and what he did, I hope we can find out more,” he said.
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