Richard Bean Sr. Served in the U.S. Army During WWII

Richard Bean Sr. was a Tlingit Code Talker and served in the South Pacific.

WWII veteran Richard Bean Sr.’s Tlingit name was Joonalaxéitl.  He was born June 5, 1920 and died December 24, 1985.  He was a member of the T’akdeintaan Clan, Sockeye House, Chookaneidí dachxán.  He passed away without anyone knowing that he had used his Tlingit language to outsmart the Japanese during World War II. 

Even his closest relatives and friends were unaware of this important role in America’s history.  During the Second World War, the Japanese had cracked every code the United States used, but when the Marines turned to Navajo, Tlingit and other Native American recruits to develop and implement a secret military language, they created the only unbroken codes in modern warfare and helped assure victory for the United States over Japan in the South Pacific. 

With the introduction of Western education many Tlingits were punished in school for speaking their Native tongue.  However, during wartime, numerous Tlingit people stepped up and helped American service men and women win the war.  In 2013, Congress recognized the Code Talkers, who were posthumously awarded silver medals. Hoonah veteran Ozzie Sheakley also received a Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the entire Tlingit tribe.

Former House Speaker John Boehner, who served as the 53rd speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 2011 to 2015, reported at a ceremony to honor Richard Bean that “during forty-eight hours on Iwo Jima, they say 800 Native language battle communications were received and translated.  It took seconds, at a time when decoding by machines could take half an hour.  The men undoubtedly saved lives.”

On March 6, 2019, the Alaska State Legislature passed a proclamation honoring Tlingit Code Talkers passed a citation honoring Alaska’s Tlingit code talkers for their exemplary military service and the crucial role they played in helping to end World War II.

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 Corporation, Huna Totem Corporation, Juneau Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Sitka American Legion.