Sealaska Heritage


Tlingit Code Talkers: The warriors who helped end World War II

Navajo code talkers have long been recognized for the crucial part they played in World War II. But until very recently, no one knew that Tlingit code talkers also used the Tlingit language as a code that the enemy was never able to crack. Even the families of the Tlingit code talkers did not know of their secret service.

In November 2013, Congress awarded silver medals posthumously to Tlingit code talkers Robert Jeff David, Sr., Richard Bean, Sr., George Lewis, Jr., and brothers Harvey Jacobs and Mark Jacobs, Jr. Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Commander Ozzie Sheakley, who attended the Congressional ceremony in Washington, D.C., along with representatives from thirty-two other tribes whose members were also code talkers, received the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the Tlingit tribe.

Today, in commemoration of Veterans Day tomorrow, we proudly honor our Tlingit code talkers:

Robert “Jeff” David, Sr.
Kaasgú Suk kees
Kaagwaantaan, Bear House, Haines
T’akdeintaan yádi, Chookaneidí dachxán
12 April 1924 – 06 September 1986
Robert “Jeff” David Sr. was a well-known basketball legend from Haines. He was a member of the Gold Medal Hall of Fame, a top fisherman, and one of Sealaska’s first board members. Jeff was described as charismatic, confident, and outspoken. However, his son, Jeff David Jr., says his father never talked much about his service in World War II, other than that he served in the Philippines for part of it and was in special services.

Richard Bean, Sr.
T’akdeintaan Clan, Sockeye House, Hoonah
Chookaneidí dachxán
5 June 1920 – 24 December 1985
Richard Bean Sr. was a well-known commercial fisherman from Hoonah. He was a purse seiner, crabber, troller, and halibut fisherman. In addition, Richard was an elder in the Hoonah Presbyterian Church, a lifetime member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, and a member of Sealaska, Huna Totem Corp., Juneau Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Sitka American Legion. He served in the South Pacific during World War II.

George Lewis, Jr.
Saa.aat’, Naagei, Xaakaayí
Dakl’aweidí, Killer Whale House, Angoon
Kiks.ádi yádi, Chookaneidí dachxán
08 February 1913 – 09 April 1995
George Lewis Jr. was a boat builder, carpenter, and mill worker from Sitka. He was also active in fishing, boxing, silver carving, and carving totems and Tlingit helmets. In addition, George gave 45 years of service to the Salvation Army, was a lifetime member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood in Klawock and Haines, and was a fluent Tlingit speaker and storyteller. He served in the U.S. military in World War II.

Harvey Jacobs 
Tleeyaa Kéet, Gaandawéi
Dakl’aweidí, Killer Whale House, Angoon
Deisheetaan yádi, Teikweidí dachxán
24 November 1921 – 23 November 1979
Harvey Jacobs (left) was a fisherman from Sitka. When he and his brother, Mark Jacobs Jr., (right) joined the Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor, they skipped basic training and were put to work immediately on picket boats in Southeast Alaska and the Aleutians, and then in the South Pacific. Harvey was a Machinist Mate 1st Class in the U.S. Navy and was stationed on the USS Morrison (DD 560), but he was taken off the ship prior to it subsequently becoming lost off Okinawa.

Mark Jacobs, Jr.
Saa.aat’, Keet wú, Oodéishk’áduneek, Gusht’eihéen, Woochxkáduhaa
Dakl’aweidí, Killer Whale House, Angoon
Deisheetaan yádi, Teikweidí dachxán 
28 November 1923 – 13 January 2005
Mark Jacobs Jr. was a well-known fisherman, leader, and historian from Sitka. He had vast knowledge of Tlingit culture and held positions in many regional and national groups, such as the Alaska Native Brotherhood, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the National Congress of American Indians, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and Sealaska. Mark served four years in the U.S. military, nearly all of which were in sea duty and in war zones. He served on the USS New Mexico in the Aleutians and on the USS Newberry and two years in the Amphibious Forces in the South Pacific.

Watch SHI’s lecture given in honor of our nation’s code talkers: