The Navajo Code Talkers
Strangely enough, it was only a couple of years ago that I first heard about the Navajo Code Talkers and the important role they played in the War in the Pacific. More than 3,600 Navajos served in World War Two and fought at every Pacific beach from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. Just 420 of them were Code Talkers. They were instrumental in winning the war. “Without the Navajos the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima” Marine Major Howard Conner said.
I was impressed by what I heard and set out to do research on the Code Talkers. Without them, the Pacific War would not have come to an end when it did, and I would have died in September 1945. So it was important to me to find out exactly who they were and what they did.
On the morning after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, dozens of Navajo volunteers with ponytails and red bandanas, carrying hunting rifles and sacred corn pollen for protection, showed up at the office of the superintendent of the Navajo reservation, ready to defend the United States. The men were sent home because they only spoke Navajo and no official call to arms had been issued.
In Los Angeles, a civil engineer by the name of Philip Johnson, having grown up on the Navajo reservation in Arizona as the son of missionaries, had an idea. He proposed to the Marine Commandant Thomas Holcomb in Camp Elliott, north of San Diego to recruit Navajos whose language was like a secret code, extremely well suited for fast, secure communication. As a result, in April 1942, 29 men, fluent in Navajo and English, were enlisted on the reservation and boarded a train that would take them to a California boot camp. Most of them had never been off the reservation and before going to fight in a foreign land across an ocean they had never seen, medicine men performed a Navajo ritual for them called “The Blessing Way.”
After six weeks in boot camp, where they proved to be model Marines, used as they were to walking miles each day in the high desert, they became the 382nd Platoon, USMC, and were taken to Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, to be trained in turning their complex language into a code.
The Code Talkers turned to nature to create their code. Since the Navajo language knows no words for modern warfare like ships, tanks, airplanes or bomber, the Code Talkers had to improvise. For instance, destroyer became calo – “shark”; submarine beshloiron – “fish”; bomb – “egg”, Japanese – “slant eyes”, grenades – “potatoes”.
When the code was finished, Navy Intelligence could not decipher a single message but the Code Talkers could encode and decode sensitive military information in no time at all. Because in Navajo everything is stored in memory, they had no problem remembering the code names. A couple of them stayed behind to teach the next group and the others were shipped overseas.
To be continued.
Did you know about the Navajo Code Talkers? Did you see the movie “Wind Talkers?” What did you think of the movie?
I welcome your comments.
Until next time,