Frank Sanache, a former prisoner of war and the last living Meskwaki code talker, died on Aug. 21. Cause of death was not released. He was 86.
Twenty-seven members of the Meskwaki Indian tribe enlisted in the Iowa National Guard in 1941, and were activated in the Army’s 34th Division during World War II. Eight of these soldiers, including Sanache and his brother Willard, trained to use their language as a secret code to encrypt orders relayed over walkie-talkies. Neither the Germans nor the Japanese ever cracked this code.
Sanache studied walkie-talkie transmission technique for two months, then spent a year training in the woods of Louisiana. The military failed to utilize his translation skills, however, opting instead to ship him to North Africa. Sanache was serving as a scout there when Germans troops captured him.
He was held as a prisoner of war in a German internment camp in Poland for more than two years. Upon his liberation, Sanache returned to Tama County, Iowa, and spent the rest of his life working at a paper mill.
Although 18 tribes contributed code talkers to the war effort, only the Navajo have received official acknowledgment from the government. In 2001, President George W. Bush awarded 29 Navajo code talkers with the Congressional Gold Medal. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have both pushed for the Meskwakis to receive the same recognition. Last spring, the Iowa Legislature also passed a resolution to urge Congress to recognize the Meskwaki code talkers for their heroism.