World War Two in the Pacific: 1942 – 1945

The Navajo Code Talkers

Today, December 7, the world remembers the day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and involved the United States in the War in the Pacific. I also remember with gratitude the Navajo Code Talkers, whose efforts helped end the war and save my life.

The first group of Code Talkers was deployed to a small island in Melanesia called Guadalcanal, east of Papua New Guinea. Infested with leeches and crocodiles in its dense jungles as it was, the Code Talkers did not have an easy time for they were used as everyday soldiers. Officers were very reluctant to use them as “radio messengers” because, even though their code had been tested and proven extremely fast and undecipherable it had not been tested before in combat. The Navajos proved to be adept as night scouts and natural guerilla fighters thanks to their lives on the reservation but it took a while before they were operating as “radiomen”. Slowly, but surely, the code proved to be convincing as the Marines conquered island after island on their way to Japan. Because for many other Marines it was difficult to distinguish them during battle from short Japanese men, many Code Talkers got their own bodyguard.

As the Allies progressed towards Japan, the enemy realized that a strange code was being used, and to prevent them from deciphering it, the Code talkers got together between invasions to update the code. Messages to their families at home were never delivered, in an effort to conceal the source of the code. The most difficult thing to get over for the Navajos was the bloody carnage and the dead bodies they encountered everywhere.

In February 1945, preparing to invade the little island of Iwo Jima, Code Talkers recalled their “Blessing Way” ritual and sprinkled corn pollen while other Marines prayed with their chaplain. Then they hit the beach wading through the dead bodies washed back by the tide. During the first two days, six networks of Code Talkers sent out over 800 battlefield communications with perfect accuracy and a month later, when they transmitted Victory at Iwo Jima, nobody doubted their code any more.

After the war, back on the reservation, they were Indians again, back in their Hogans, working hard for a meager existence, plagued by recurring nightmares, sickness, deafness and memories they could not forget.

The country did not recognize or reward them in any way because the military wanted to maintain their advantage for possible future wars. But the code was never used again and was finally declassified in 1968. President Ronald Reagan named August 14 “National Code Talkers Day” in 1982.

In the year 2000, Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to Navajo Code Talkers, and recognized others in 2008 because “there is no question that their contributions were unparalleled.” (Sen. Tim Johnson)

To be continued.

As usual, I welcome your comments.

Until next time,


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