Today, these men are recognized as the famous Navajo Code Talkers, who exemplify the unequaled bravery and patriotism of the Navajo people. These Navajo men were selected to create codes and serve on the front line to overcome and deceive those on the other side of the battlefield (Discover Navajo). However, “unknown to many, the Navajo language was used to create a secret code to battle the Japanese. A lot of visitors from around the world are intrigued, yet also confused, when they hear the Navajo language – so, too, were the enemy during World War II. (Discover Navajo) According to Price-wright, “For three years, 400 Navajo troops–mostly Marines–used the code in battles with the Japanese. No messages were ever decoded. It is still the only spoken U. S. military code that has never been broken.
The Navajo code talkers played an important role in the U. S. victory in World War II. But their work was a secret until 1968. Even after the mission and code were declassified, few Americans heard about these Native American heroes. Jennifer Roseburg claims that, “however, a man named Philip Johnston had served in World War I and remembered hearing at that time about a battle in which some Choctaw Indians were communicating with each other by radio, using their native language. ” These were the first “code talkers” to be used in wartime, and they were critical to the success of the American Expeditionary Forces at that time (ibid). Johnston believed they could find a way of communicating that no one else would understand. While the codes were often used, they were also frequently broken.
In 1942, a man named Philip Johnston thought of a code he thought unbreakable by the enemy; A code based on the Navajo language (Rosenburg). Rosenburg states that, “From battalion to battalion or ship to ship – everyone must stay in contact to know when and where to attack or when to fall back. If the enemy were to hear these tactical conversations, not only would the element of surprise be lost, but the enemy could also reposition and get the upper hand. Codes (encryptions) were essential to protect these conversations. ” Communication is essential during any war and World War II was no different.
Unfortunately, though codes were often used, they were also frequently broken (Rosenburg). According to Brian Nixon, “Johnston learned the Navajo language in Arizona while his father, William Johnston, was working along side the Navajo people. ” While Philip traveled to Washington, D. C with his father and local Navajo leaders, they were going to meet with President Roosevelt. Their initial goal of the meeting was to discuss Navajo land rights. Philip was the Navajo/English translator between the local Navajo leaders and President Roosevelt. Philip later served in the armed forces during World War I(1914-1918).
At the start of World War II, Philip proposed the idea of the U. S. using the Navajo language as code. The Marines recruited four Navajos living in the Los Angeles area, just for a trial run. The program was so successful that Clayton Vogel, the acting General, put the plan into action. This, however, lead to the date of May 4, 1942, where “twentynine Navajo recruits boarded a bus at Ft. Defiance, Arizona, and were off to San Diego, beginning their seven weeks of recruit” (Nixon, 2012). Marine recruiters traveled to the Navajo reservation to recruit 30 young Navajo-speaking men.
One dropped out. The leftover recruits were sent to boot camp at Fort Elliot, California, where they became the 382nd Platoon, USMC. These recruits learned to survive in a rough environment reminiscent of the South Pacific. The platoon proved to be some tough new marines (u-shistory). Andrew Santella thinks that, “However, the Navajos devised a code that worked extremely well. They made a list of Navajo words that would represent each letter in the English language alphabet. For example, the Navajo word for apple (be-la-sana) stood for the letter A.
The Navajo word for bear (shush) stood for the letter B, and the Navajo word for cat (moast) stood for the letter C. The code talkers sent messages by using Navajo code words to spell out words in English. For example, to say “Navy,” code talkers would say the Navajo words that stood for each letter: Nesh-chee (or nut, for N), wol-la-chee (or ant, for A), a-keh-di-glini (or victor, for V), and tsah-as-zih (or yucca, for Y). ” One of our jobs of our second class of Navajo code talkers was to assign more Navajo words to letters of the English alphabet that are used most often.
That is because people who break codes can sometimes do so by hearing or seeing the same sound or symbol appearing many times. They call this “word frequency. ” So we added seventeen more Navajo words for A, E, 1, O, U, D, H, L, N, R, S, and T. The most commonly used of those letters got more than one new word (Bruchac, pg. 77-78). Bruchac also claims that, “Because it would take far too long to spell out every word that we sent, we only used this alphabet for words that were not used a lot. On Sulphur Island, for example, we spelled out the mountain named Suribachi by sending the Navajo words for Sheep-Uncle-Ram-Ice-Bear-Ant-Cat-Horse-Itch.
We used separate code words for things often mentioned in warfare. With the thoughts of Santella, “Not all words had to be spelled out letter by letter, however. The code talkers came up with a list of Navajo words or phrases that could be used to represent common military terms. Many of these code words came from the Navajo knowledge of the natural world. Fighter planes flew quickly and made a buzzing noise, so they were given the code name dah-he-tih-hi, which is the Navajo word for hummingbird. ” Dive bombers were named for chicken hawks, or gini.
The bombs they dropped were given the code name a-ye-shi, the Navajo word for eggs. Later, the Navajos made the code more difficult to crack by adding more code words (Santella, 2004). Code talkers not in combat would be flown in to Pearl or some other convenient location to update everyone on any changes or additions made in the code. It was also a great time for us to catch up on news and learn what had been going on in the war. Because we shared so much information among ourselves and because our code was used for the most important and secret messages,…. Bruchac, pg. 91). During the first two days of the battle at Iwo Jima, six networks of Navajo code talkers worked nonstop, transmitting more than 800 messages without a single error. Major Howard Connor, a Marine officer, later said, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken lwo Jima. ” (Quick Facts). The War Department found among the Pueblo Indians the necessary linguistic abilities, actively recruited them into the New Mexico National Guard, mobilized the outfit, and shipped the unit to the islands.
Optimism prevailed within the Signal Corps, and, in spring 1942, thirty Comanches entered the Signal Corps and were dispatched to the European Theater (Townsend, 2000). Townsend also claims that, “Despite the army’s early efforts and the proficiency demonstrated by Indian code talkers, the War Department never fully grasped the program’s potential. ” No more than a few dozen Indians were trained for radio operations. However, in contrast, the Marine Corps developed the concept on such a broad level that it became an integral part of the branch’s combat operations.
But, unlike the army, Marine solicitation of Indians did not commence until after Pearl Harbor. Moreover, the program resulted not from within the military but from a civilian source. ” Before the Indians recruits were informed of their particular task, they had received basic training and advanced infantry training in San Diego. This resulted in the Indians responding enthusiastically and were willingly beginning the construction of the code. “The initial problem centered on the transfer of military terms and phrases to the Navajo language.
This proved especially difficult since most of the terms to be encoded had no counterpart among Indians” (Townsend, 2000). The Navajo language was recognized by the coded expressions that were demanded simplicity. According to Townsend, “Under combat conditions, rapid transmission and translation was critical. Lengthy phrases, or those difficult to remember, might prove too time consuming and, therefore, counterproductive. ” By advertising confusion, the Navajos showcased words that held direct association with nature or with their common reservation life.
The Allied plan of bombing the great cities of the Japanese mainland had continued all through our invasion of Okinawa. From high in the skyB-29s dropped thousands of tons of high explosives on every Japanese city (Bruchac, 205). Unfortunately, Tokyo itself was completely destroyed in a giant firestorm. In July of 1945, Emperor Hirohito sent a letter to the Supreme Military Council, urging them to seek peace. They ignored his message (Bruchac, pg. 205). According to Harrison Lapahie Jr. “After 56 years since the end of World War 2, on July 26, 2001, the first Navajo radiomen recruits, who are also the original 29 and developed and initiated the secret Navajo code, were given the Gold Congressional Medal of Honor at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, DC. There was, however, only 5 alive, while 4 were only able to attend. “In Window Rock, AZ on November 24, 2001, the other 371 Navajo Code Talkers were given the Silver Congressional Medal of Honor at Nakai Hall, Navajo Nation Fairgrounds. ” (Lapahie, 1997). A few of the Navajo Code Talkers were alive to show up.
However, instead, many family members of dead Navajo Code Talkers accepted their medals. According to the Eastman Leather Clothing Blog, ‘In 1945, one August evening, there had been news that everyone had been waiting to hear. The Navajos were the first to receive these news. ” However, Emperor Hirohito had proposed the Japanese nation to surrender, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki three days later. This resulted in the war being finally over. In conclusion, 421 Navajos were at Camp Pendleton’s code talker school and had completed wartime training, while most had been assigned to combat units overseas.
Aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, following Japan’s formal surrender, several code talkers volunteered for duty with U. S. occupation forces in Japan (ibid). Others were sent to China for duty with American Marines there. One code talker, Willson Price, remained in the Marine Corps for thirty years, finally retiring in 1972 (Eastman Leather Clothing Blog). President Clinton signed a bill to award Congressional Medals to all Navajo code talkers. By some estimates, 150 of the original 420 or so code talkers are still alive today (Quick Facts).