Silver Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to Dan and Rufus Ross nearly 70 years after serving.
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Nearly 70 years after their service in World War II, Rufus and Dan Ross were awarded Silver Congressional Medals of Honor in a ceremony that honored those revealed to be Code Talkers for the United States.
But it was a ceremony that almost wasn’t – it took a chance meeting, a nearly forgotten memory and an Act of Congress to all fall in line to finally give Rufus and Dan Ross the medals they deserved.
It all started when Basil Heth, commander of American Legion McBride Post 257, ran into Dallas Ross, the son of Rufus, at a funeral in the summer of 2013.
Heth, who was working on a project covering the 8th Army Air Corps, asked Dallas about his father’s service.
After it was discovered that Rufus’s name was absent from a list of 8th Army Air Corps members, Heth asked if it was possible if Rufus and Dan were Code Talkers.
“I had to remember back to when I was a youngster,” Dallas said. “I couldn’t have been more than eight or ten, and my uncles were out in the front yard visiting and talking about their war time in WWII.”
What Dallas overheard was a conversation in Dakota about “using their language to help out” in World War II.
“I went about my business as a little boy playing, and 50 years later, the idea of Code Talkers came up,” Dallas said. “So I told [Basil] the story, and I thought that was the end of it.”
Months later, however, Heth returned to Dallas with good news and two newly minted medals in tow, one for his uncle and one for his father.
Heth had submitted the names to the Department of Defense (DOD), and it was revealed that indeed Rufus and Dan were both Code Talkers
“I never really put two and two together,” Dallas said. “Considering Dan was jumping out of airplanes and dad was in an airplane, they would have to have a way to communicate.”
And so, in January of 2014, the brothers were awarded posthumous Silver Congressional Medals of Honor, as well as the Yankton Sioux reservation receiving a Gold medal.
Under the Code Talkers Recognition Act, passed into law in 2008, the reservation is awarded a Gold medal and the individuals are awarded Silver medals for the confirmed Code Talkers.
“The screwball thing is that Dan and dad never lived in Yankton,” Dallas said. “It was just a quirk of history. “
The Ross’s grandparents and great grandparents on their mother’s side were recorded in Yankton in the 1800s, making them technically Yankton Sioux members, despite being born and living in Minnesota.
“I thought it should have been some place in Minnesota, whether it be this reservation, or at least recognizing this part of the country,” Dallas said. “But it literally takes an act of congress to fix that.”
“Ironic and Hypocritical”
Code Talking was kept top secret, hidden from the forefront of public knowledge, until the Nicolas Cage movie “Windtalkers” premiered in 2002. The movie, which featured the Navajo Code Talkers in supporting roles, kicked off a slew of congressional honors for the service of Native Americans in World War I and World War II.
Although, thanks to the movie, the Navajo get most of the credit for Code Talking, Washington has recognized 33 other tribes for their similar work in their own native languages.
However, the feat of those many tribes was almost thwarted by the aggressive attempts to assimilate the very tribes that ended up serving the United States.
While they were children, Rufus, Dan and other Native American students nationwide were forced into boarding schools that would shame or punish those who spoke in their Native language.
“It is ironic and hypocritical at the same time,” Dallas said. “I’m sure that played on my uncle’s and my dad’s minds that all the time they spent in boarding school getting their knuckles cracked or kneeling on a broomstick, they are in a war encouraged to speak their language for the military’s purpose.”
Even after the Native languages helped the war effort, assimilating boarding schools were still operating, and continued to do so for decades.
Despite the additional honors, Dallas’s opinions on his family members have not changed.
“I’ve always had a high opinion of my uncles and my dad,” Dallas said. “It’s more of a satisfaction that they got recognized for being Code Talkers, since there are only so many people that were actually Code Talkers in WWII. It is a fair number, but even so, there was nobody else in the world who could do it except for the natives.”
Dallas explained that culturally, Dakota are typically humble and reserved, refraining from speaking about themselves. Instead any recognition is done through someone else.
“Dad wasn’t the kind of person who wanted to be in the forefront of attention,” Dallas said.
In this case, Dallas decided the best way to share the recognition was to display the Silver Medal at the Fagen Fighters WWII museum outside of Granite Falls. It is currently located in the library in the Fighter Hanger, although it may be moved to the newest hanger currently under construction.
“So as long the museum exists, we are comfortable with it being there,” Dallas said. “If I kept it, the only person who would see it would be me.”