Schlicht Billy: WW1 Code Talker and Baptist Deacon

“Oh Merciful Father!”, was the way Schlicht Billy started his prayer as an elderly deacon at Zion Missionary Baptist Church in McAlester, OK. As his life story comes to light, it’s no wonder he addressed his Heavenly Father as merciful.

Schlicht Billy was a full blood Choctaw, born on Dec 26, 1920 in Tannihill, OK, one of seven children born to Williamson and Lucinda Thompson Billy. Zion Missionary Baptist Church has been at its present location since 1912 and Williamson Billy would walk to church taking his family with him. Schlicht remembered being told that as they built the little church the men used a pan of water to make sure the foundation was level.

Like many Native boys during that time, Schlicht went to school at Jones Academy in Hartshorne, OK.

Schlicht joined the National Guard, was enlisted in the 180th infantry, and went to Fort Sill for basic training in 1940. He was to be trained as a combat soldier but after placing high in IQ tests he was sent for more specialized training; chemical warfare (gas), how to direct fire on the enemy, map reading, amphibious training, ship to shore, and frogmen training. He had mountain training in VA, winter training in NY, and swamp training in Many, LA.

In 1943, Schlicht deployed with 180th infantry Regiment of the 45th division for the end of the invasion on North Africa. From there, he participated in an amphibious assault on Sicily. At this point, his younger brother, Loy Billy, joined the fighting at Sicily.  On July 28, 1943, Schlicht saw his brother die when a German Nazi tank fired upon the truck transporting his brother. Loy had only been in Sicily fighting eight days. The fighting was intense, and that particular battle lasted 38 days.

Next came the invasion of Italy. They went to Rome and liberated the city. Schlicht was almost a year fighting in the harsh mountains of Italy. He recollected, “…climbing up one mountain and we would see another one a little bit higher and the Germans were shooting down on you.” After helping to take Rome, they pulled his unit out to resupply.  Soon they went to southern France where they encountered no trouble. They marched right into France. As they went up the Roan valley to Nancy they met hard resistance, the elite of the German army, the SS soldiers. Though the men were well disciplined, Schlicht recounts, “They couldn’t stop a bullet.”

The Choctaws had more code talkers in WW1 than in WW2, but because Schlicht was fluent in Choctaw he was able to use the language during the invasions to help relay messages. He said, “There were no classes on how to use it, you just used it like you did at home.” As a unit leader, he could get ships at sea or air support by using Choctaw words such as “tanamp hochito” for artillery. Or “if you needed to get information from a captured enemy soldier you would relay, ‘Hatak ish bina’ (don’t kill him).”

Schlicht was promoted on the battlefield all the way to Second Lieutenant and in March of 1945 he found himself and the allied forces at the French-German border and the heavily fortified Siegfried line. He was concerned about the mission. His concern was bringing and leading the platoon out with the least casualties possible.

Here are the words of First Lieutenant Jack Treadwell, commanding Company F 180th infantry regiment 45th division, on that day:

“On my right was the first platoon commanded by Second Lieutenant Schlict Billy. He was a Choctaw Indian from Oklahoma and had been commissioned on the battlefield and was a courageous and resourceful fighting man in whom I had the utmost confidence. In two hours of attacking we took heavy casualties – 30 to 40 men either killed or wounded, which will give you some idea. Then, all at once, Schlicht Billy scored, but he found he had a tiger by the tail!   

“I’m in this pillbox and I can’t get out!”  

That was his message to me via radio and his position was indeed difficult. What had happened was this. Finding his platoon unable to advance in conventional fashion, Billy had taken three or four men and started crawling Indian style. They’d been successful in reaching a pillbox and got inside the fortification. They’d been observed, however, from flanking pillboxes and now they were immobilized inside. Every time they tried to get out they were thrown back by a hail of German machine gun and rifle fire.   

“I can’t get out,” repeated Billy on the radio, “and I can’t get the rest of my platoon up!” “Stay where you are!” I ordered, “I’ll try to get to you!”   

Whatever the hazard, whatever the cost, Billy must be maintained in his position and strengthened. It was our foot in the door of the Siegfried Line, and it must be kept there.   

Schlicht recollected that upon reaching the pillbox he saw a hole near the machine gun opening for ventilation. He threw a fragmentation grenade down the hole and nothing happened. He then threw a smoke grenade down and began to hear the Germans coughing and soon the door opened and they filed out. He sent the Germans back toward the Allied Forces as they shouted “Comrade!” As he waited for reinforcements, Schlicht went out of the bunker into a trench and climbed a ladder to better see what was happening. He said he could hear the mortar incoming but there was nothing he could do. He was gravely wounded and was eventually loaded on a tank and moved to a safer location, but his bravery allowed him to capture the first bunker and help the allied forces take the Siegfried Line.  He was shipped back to the United States where he had to learn to walk again after being partially paralyzed for 18 months. That wasn’t the first time he had been wounded. He received a Purple Heart for being shot in the foot advancing on the retreating enemy. He said, “It was cleaned out with sulphuric medicine, and I kept going.”

In total Schlicht Billy received a Purple Heart with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star, Victory Medal, Arrowhead for invasion (participated in 4 invasions), the Presidential unit citation given for helping out another unit in trouble. (Given by the French when the 7th army was surrounded by Germans. Sent to get them out. Accomplished), Ready in Peace or War – a medal in the Choctaw language, and a European Theater Operations Ribbon, Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame and Choctaw nation Code Talker Medal.

Upon returning home, Schlicht learned to live with the shrapnel he would always carry in his body as a reminder of the battles the Lord had so mercifully brought him through. The day came when Schlicht gave his life over to the Lord. His son, Greg Billy said, “There came a time when as a little boy, I remember we started going to church and never stopped. When I got older, Dad didn’t hound me about God, but he would say, “Son, you need to live by this book”, meaning the Bible. He told me that above all the medals he had received for bravery, the thing that meant the most was when the church asked him to be a deacon.”   Schlicht Billy told reporters that he made an effort to absorb what he was taught. He was able to accomplish all the missions that he was given. He said, “We weren’t running or retreating.”  He proved a courageous soldier for the United States and did the same for his Savior, Jesus Christ. Towards the end of his life, he was being pressured into saying that he had been treated badly in the army because of his being Native. His reply was that his men had the utmost respect for him and he never had to ask for volunteers. He said he didn’t have worries from combat and you shouldn’t live in the past. Philippians 3:13-14 “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”   He believed in helping others. Galatians 6:2 “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”   He wanted leaders to teach the youth of today. 2 Timothy 2:2 “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”   So when you look at the sum of Schlicht Billy’s life, it’s evident why he prayed “Oh Merciful Father,”.  God was indeed merciful to him and Schlicht proved his love for his country and His God.  2 Timothy 2:3 “Thou, therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

These accounts were brief accounts given by Schlicht to his family and friends.
He did not glorify his acts or take credit for anything he was able to do.