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Mannsville students still working to honor Oklahombi

Students at Mannsville School in Johnston County began a project aimed at getting the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Oklahoma native and World War I hero Joseph Oklahombi.

Oklahombi was a Choctaw code talker during the war and is notable for his courage under fire. He was the most decorated soldier from Oklahoma to serve in World War I and led more than 20 fellow soldiers on a counterattack that killed 79 German soldiers and resulted in the capture of 171 more.

Oklahombi was killed in 1960 when he was run over by a truck while walking along a road. He is buried in Broken Bow and still has relatives in Oklahoma.

The idea to campaign for the medal began as a History Day project. Three years later many of the students who were initially involved are nearing the end of high school. But this spring they got a boost from Kansas State University historian Jed Dunham who offered to help students gather more documentation for their application after reading news stories about their efforts. And not long after Dunham saw a picture that a Facebook friend posted after visiting a French military cemetery. It was Joseph Oklahombi.

The picture and plaque in french telling Oklahombi's story wasn't something the students expected.

"I think it's wonderful that people around the world have knowledge that Joseph Oklahombi was there and that he was recognized," Trevor Carroll said.

Gus Peoples believes the plaque is proof Oklahombi's story is worth telling.

"I personally believe that the plaque found in France just furthermore backs up the facts and his courageous actions," Peoples said.

Mannsville teacher Nellie Garone said media attention has helped the project.

"I thought that it was interesting that it was newspaper coverage in the beginning of Oklahombi's rise to public knowledge due to the teletype just coming into use,"Garrone said. "And now once again the press has aided us in our search for more information."

The project has also been aided by the Choctaw Nation and Congressman Markwayne Mullin's office. But there's still a ways to go.

"We still need one more eye witness account but we're encouraged with the plaque," she said.

They still intend to see it through, and the effort has already paid dividends. Garone said they have brought Oklahombi's name to the forefront and reconnected some of his relatives during the course of the project.

"The boys will be sophomores and juniors in high school next year," Garone said. "One of them said to me 'Did you ever think we would still be searching and hoping at this point in time?'. No, but the journey has been worthwhile. "

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Matt Patterson

Matt Patterson has been with The Oklahoman since 2006. Prior to joining the news staff in 2010, Patterson worked in The Oklahoman's sports department for five years. He previously worked at The Lawton Constitution and The Edmond Sun.... Read more ›