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BAXTER, MINN. — Lex Porter died without ever revealing to his family that he was a code talker during World War II. So his family was surprised — and grateful — when the military decided to honor the late member of the Fond du Lac band of Ojibwe with a posthumous Medal of Honor.
The actual presentation won’t be for a few more months, but proud relatives are already celebrating, the Brainerd Dispatch reported.
“It took a while for it to set in — what he did during the war,” said Freedom Porter, his 34-year-old grandson. “He had a remarkable talent that made him so special.”
Freedom Porter was just a boy when his grandfather died. The Baxter man says he grew up hearing about code talkers but never knew his grandfather played such a key role.
Code talkers transmitted coded messages in 33 different tribal dialects during both World War I and World War II, an effort that helped keep enemy agents from deciphering the messages. Native American languages were used because they were unique and distinct and, in many cases, had never been written down.
The program was de-classified in 1968, but like many code talkers, Lex Porter never broke the vow of silence he took upon entering the program.
“He told us he was a simple radio man,” Porter said. “Which was true — he just never told us he was a code talker.”
Porter attended a ceremony in Washington, D.C., last month in honor of World War II code talkers and their families. It wasn’t until he saw House Speaker John Boehner get misty-eyed that Porter fully appreciated the significance of his grandfather’s service.
“That’s when it finally clicked,” he said. “My eyes watered, my throat tightened — that’s when I really felt the pride.”
Porter said it was odd to think about how his grandfather would have felt receiving the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He recalled that other veterans who attended the Washington ceremony were too humble to consider themselves heroes, and he figured his grandfather would have felt the same way.
During World War II, Native Americans weren’t yet considered American citizens, Porter said. He remembered hearing his grandfather talk about why he served knowing he might never receive recognition for his service.
“Someone had to defend freedom,” Porter said. “He just wanted to help.”