CROW AGENCY – Tribal, state and military officials on Friday presented Congressional Gold Medals posthumously to four Crow veterans for their service as code talkers during World War II.
“These are four American heroes who exemplified the best Montana has to offer,” said Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote, who is directly related to three of the men, during a ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park.
In an hourlong ceremony at the Apsaalooke Veterans Park that featured flyovers from a pair of Blackhawk helicopters and a B-1 bomber, and drew more than 100 people, the families of Barney Old Coyote Jr., Henry Old Coyote, Samson Birdinground and Cyril Notafraid received the medals.
The medals were bestowed upon the men in late 2014 in Washington, D.C., but didn't arrive in Montana until months later.
The medal is Congress' highest recognition and appreciation of people, institutions or events.
All four men served in the war as code talkers, a group of soldiers representing 33 American Indian tribes who baffled Japanese intelligence by passing along secret information using a code made up of Indian languages.
Corky Old Horn recalled how Barney and Henry Old Coyote rode alongside commanders in bombers and passed along messages in the code along the way.
"A language never deciphered by the enemy kept America safe," he said.
Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn, adjutant general of the Montana Army National Guard, noted that the effort was integral in the war effort and helped to bring it to an end while also nodding to the longstanding and continuing Crow contribution to America's armed forces.
"Their service as code talkers during World War II was crucial to the safety of all American troops ... and helped bring an end to the war," he said. "We also must honor the service of all Crow veterans who have served and those who continue to serve across the globe today."
Officials from the tribe, representatives from U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines' offices and Quinn presented the men's families with the medals, each family group lining individually to receive the small gold medallions.
Much of Friday's ceremony also focused on recognizing that Crow citizens have serve and continue to do so. The day started a mile away with the Crow Native Days Parade, which was led by four female Crow veterans.
Tribal Vice Chair Dana Wilson thanked the women and expressed how much he and other tribal members respect their warriors.
"We hold these soldiers, these men and women, up in high esteem," he said.
Midway through the presentations, two Montana Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopters flew in low over the crowd, just after a rendition of the national anthem.
Near the end and as tribal member Linda Birdinground sang "God Bless the USA," a B-1 bomber from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota roared in overhead.
Quinn also presented another Crow veteran, Pfc. Ronald Williamson Jr., with a Bronze Star for his service in July 2010 during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Knute Old Crow Sr., a U.S. Army veteran who led the opening prayer and gave remarks throughout the ceremony, said that all of those who've served did so for the people there Friday.
"Thank you for being here and honoring each and every one of these men and women," he said. "They felt it was a duty for the protection of our well-being and the freedom we have here today."