The Code Talkers were our country’s best-kept secret.
Imagine serving during wartime in a covert undertaking that you swore to keep secret, even unto death. Additionally, your family had no idea what you did while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps; and even though your efforts literally turned the tide of two major wars, your contributions went unnoticed and unrewarded.
Additionally, your family had no idea what you did while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps; and even though your efforts literally turned the tide of two major wars, your contributions went unnoticed and unrewarded for almost sixty years!
Recipe for Military Success
- Twenty-nine brave and brilliant Navajo men fluent in both English and Navajo willing to join the U.S. Marine Corp.
- One extremely difficult Athabaskan language, not yet written.
- A major war underway.
- Seven hundred phonetically created and memorized code words.
Mix all ingredients, then add:
- Four hundred more willing Navajos to become U.S. Marine Code Talkers
Turn mixture out into well-seasoned platoons and . . .
- Bake in the jungles of Guadalcanal.
- Simmer in the black sands of Iwo Jima.
- Spread into every major engagement of the Pacific theater from 1942-1945.
- Re-use all ingredients later in Korea and Vietnam.
The above “recipe” produced the world’s first and only indecipherable code and a group of heroes who were the military’s best-kept secret until 2001.
Major Howard Conner, fifth Marine Division signal officer said that were it not for the Navajo Code Talkers, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima. According to the Navajo Code Talkers World War II Fact Sheet, six Navajos were in Iwo Jima working around the clock non-stop for the first two days of the battle. They sent and received over 800 messages, ALL WITHOUT ERROR!
Where did these outstanding Code Talker candidates come from?
Government-run boarding schools were set up in the 1890s to assimilate Native Americans into American culture. The children were
stolen participated by leaving their families at the age of five or six years old. They didn’t return until after graduation. The schools were run with rock-hard rules similar to an adult military boot camp.
From these prisons schools, came the Navajo Code Talkers, the only men in all of history to create a code so magnificently ironclad that the best code crackers in the world couldn’t touch it. It makes me want to scream, it’s so cool!!
The recruits had to meet age, weight, health and language requirements and went through the standard Marine boot-camp training. It is said that drill instructors and other recruits were in awe of the physical endurance of the Navajo men. After boot camp, the initial group of Navajo Code Talkers was charged with creating 211 military terms. The codes were memorized and never written down. Before it was over, the secret code words numbered more than 700, thus marking the end of constant interception and sabotage of US. military communications from our enemies.
Exactly how the code was conceived and implemented is nothing short of breathtaking.
Are you getting it why I’m so proud of the Navajos?
The code itself was declassified in 1968, but the Code Talkers were still under wraps until 2001. Some of the Code Talker’s own families had no concept of how their relative had served in the wars in which they participated.
In 2001, the Navajo Code Talkers were honored and recognized by this country as heroes. President George Bush awarded Congressional Gold Medals to the original twenty-nine code talkers. Of the original twenty-nine, only five were alive, and four were able to travel to Washington D.C. to receive their medal. Later, in Window Rock, Arizona – the capitol of the Navajo Nation – silver medals were bestowed upon the other men who later qualified as Navajo Code Talkers. Because recognition was so slow to come, most of the medals were handed off to survivors.
On a smaller but no lesser scale of heroic dedication, members of the Sioux, Choctaw, Comanche, Cherokee, Hopi, and Mohawk tribes also used their native languages as secret codes during WWI, WWII, and beyond. (If I left any tribes out, I apologize. Contact me, and I’ll be more than happy to add them to this list.)
In fact, More than 12,000 American Indians served in World War I—about 25 percent of the male American Indian population at that time. During World War II, when the total American Indian population was less than 350,000, an estimated 44,000 Indian men and women served.
Now that’s patriotism!
It is stunning and sad to realize that the Native American men (and women) who sacrificed everything to serve their country in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were not allowed to vote in US elections until:
Arizona – 1948 *three years after the end of World War II*
New Mexico – 1953 *After the end of the Korean War*
Utah – 1957 *After Native Americans had served in World War II and the Korean War*
On the Official Website of the Navajo Code Talkers, it says: They were a small band of warriors who created an unbreakable code from the ancient language of their people and changed the course of modern history.
That gives me goose bumps. I’ve studied the Navajo people enough to know that the sacrifice those young men made to the war effort is incalculable and that it goes far beyond serving a stint in the US military.
Navajo Code Talkers . . . we salute you!
Diné – what the Navajos call themselves. It means the people.
Diné Bizaad – the native language of the Navajo.
In Code Talker language:
Hitler was: He Who Smells His Mustache.
Mussolini was: Gourd Chin.
Amazingly creative, right?
In case you want to read about the Code Talkers on Wikipedia in their own words and language, please be my guest, and good luck!
What about you? Did you already know about the Navajo Code Talkers, or is this something you’ve never heard of?
If you are familiar with the real Code Talkers and their contribution to US history, do you think the movie Wind Walkers with Nicholas Cage portrayed them properly? I lean toward no. What do you think about that? We’d all love to hear!
“All I thought when I went in the Marine Corps was they were going to give me a belt of ammunition, a rifle, a steel helmet, and a uniform. ‘Go and shoot (the enemy).’ That’s what I thought; but later on, they told us differently–different style, purpose of why they got us in.” —Chester Nez, Navajo Code Talker, National Museum of the American Indian interview, 2004