FARMINGTON — With red shawls draped around their shoulders, sisters Nona Gail Reed and Mona Selph stood with their brother, Wellington "Mike" Mihecoby Jr., and read the inscription on their father's new headstone.
Their father, U.S. Army Pfc. Wellington Mihecoby, was one of 14 Comanche Code Talkers who used their native language to transmit military messages during the European campaigns in World War II.
German forces never cracked the code because it sounded like the Comanche men were "speaking under water," Selph said before Saturday's dedication ceremony for the new headstone at Memory Gardens in Farmington.
The gravestone was donated by the Comanche Nation and the Comanche Indian Veterans Association, whose members traveled from Oklahoma to conduct the ceremony. It lists Mihecoby's service as a code talker and mentions he was a Congressional Gold Medal recipient in 2013 and was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2011.
George Red Elk, the association's commander, traveled with nine of the association's members and six members of the auxiliary on a bus decorated with a black-and-white group photograph of the 14 code talkers.
Red Elk said Mihecoby is the only code talker buried outside of Oklahoma. The association has been replacing the code talkers' headstones with ones that reflect their recent honors.
"They need to be recognized," Red Elk said.
During the ceremony, association member and Navy veteran Jose Gallegos made a smoke offering to Father Sky, Mother Earth and the four directions.
"He was my brother. We are all brothers. We are all related," Gallegos said. "What we do for one is what we do for all."
Mihecoby died in April 1975 in Oklahoma and was buried next to his wife, Verna, and a son, Lyman Turner.
He enlisted in the Army in December 1940 in Oklahoma City, Okla., and was discharged as a private first class in August 1945 from Fort Chaffee, Ark.
He was part of the third landing on D-Day in June 1944 and served in the campaigns of northern France, central Europe and Ardennes Rhineland, according to his discharge papers.
His son, Farmington resident Mike Mihecoby Jr., said the code talkers were nicknamed "roadrunners" by fellow soldiers because they ran back and forth on the battlefield when radio lines were damaged.
After military service, the elder Mihecoby earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Oklahoma State University. He retired after more than 30 years of service with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In the 1960s, the family moved from Oklahoma to Shiprock, where Mihecoby worked as the recreation specialties director at the Shiprock Boarding School.
Reed, who now lives in Baldwin City, Kan., graduated from Shiprock High School, while both Selph and the younger Mihecoby graduated from Farmington High School.
Selph, who lives in Albuquerque, arrived to the cemetery before her siblings and said it has been difficult to accept that it took decades for her father to receive recognition for his code talker service.
"We appreciate that he's not forgotten and he's appreciated for his services," Selph said. "It would have been nicer had he had been honored when he was alive."
Like many family members of Native American code talkers, the siblings did not learn about their father's service until it was declassified in the early 1980s.
Reed said they knew their father served in World War II and was at Normandy but he never talked about being a code talker.
"He was sworn to secrecy and that went to his grave with him," Reed said.