August 14: Navajo Code Talkers Day

 
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August 14: Navajo Code Talkers Day

[Note: some use "Navajo" and some use "Navaho", not sure why but I generally go with the former.]

On July 28th, 1982, then President Ronald Reagan designated August 14 as  “Navajo Code Talkers Day”:

The Navaho Nation, when called upon to serve the United States, contributed a precious commodity never before used in this way. In the midst of the fighting in the Pacific during World War II, a gallant group of men from the Navaho Nation utilized their language in coded form to help speed the Allied victory.

Equipped with the only foolproof, unbreakable code in the history of warfare, the code talkers confused the enemy with an earful of sounds never before heard by code experts. The dedication and unswerving devotion to duty shown by the men of the Navaho Nation in serving as radio code talkers in the Marine Corps during World War II should serve as a fine example for all Americans.

It is fitting that at this time we also express appreciation for the other American Indians who have served our Nation in times of war. Members of the Choctaw, Chippewa, Creek, Sioux, and other tribes used their tribal languages as effective battlefield codes against the Germans in World War I and the Japanese and Germans in World War II.

History.net has a pretty good summation for those that aren’t aware of this amazing story:

For the U.S. Armed Forces, communications, which had always been a complex issue, had now become a bewildering problem. Japanese cryptographers were proving themselves amazingly adept at breaking top secret military codes almost as rapidly as newer, more complicated procedures could be devised. Many of the Japanese code breakers had been educated in the United States where they had learned to speak English and had become familiar with American colloquialisms, including slang terms and profanity. As a result, American battle plans became known to the enemy almost immediately, often before they had become operational, and there appeared to be no immediate workable solution. The result was an appalling loss of American lives. One war analyst commented, ‘Military communications were made available to the enemy like sand sifting through a sieve.’ Some months before, Philip Johnston, a middle-aged civil engineer who lived in Los Angeles, read a newspaper article on military security. During World War I, he had served with U.S. forces in France, and although too old to fight in World War II, Johnston wanted to aid the current war effort in some way. From the age of four, he had lived on the Navajo Indian Reservation, where his parents were Protestant missionaries, and had consequently grown up speaking the Navajo tongue with his playmates. Now, as he read, the concept of a secret military code based on the Navajo language flashed across his mind.

In February 1942, after formulating his idea, Johnston traveled south to Camp Elliott near San Diego, where he tried to convince Lieutenant Colonel James E. Jones, the Marines’ Signal Corps Communications Officer, that a code based on the Navajo language could not be broken by the enemy. Jones, after listening intently to Johnston’s idea, responded: ‘In all the history of warfare, that has never been done. No code, no cipher is completely secure from enemy interception. We change our codes frequently for this reason.’ But Johnston’s graphic presentation proved so convincing that the two men agreed to set up a test.

Years later President Bush would also honor the Code Talkers with Congressional Gold Medals:

Today we mark a moment of shared history and shared victory. We recall a story that all Americans can celebrate, and every American should know. It is a story of ancient people, called to serve in a modern war. It is a story of one unbreakable oral code of the Second World War, messages traveling by field radio on Iwo Jima in the very language heard across the Colorado plateau centuries ago.

Above all, it's a story of young Navajos who brought honor to their nation and victory to their country. Some of the Code Talkers were very young, like Albert Smith, who joined the Marines at 15. In order to enlist, he said, I had to advance my age a little bit. At least one code talker was over-age, so he claimed to be younger in order to serve. On active duty, their value was so great, and their order so sensitive, that they were closely guarded. By war's end, some 400 Navajos had served as Code Talkers. Thirteen were killed in action, and their names, too, are on today's roll of honor.

Regardless of circumstances, regardless of history, they came forward to serve America. The Navajo code itself provides a part of the reason. Late in his life, Albert Smith explained, the code word for America was, "Our Mother." Our Mother stood for freedom, our religion, our ways of life, and that's why we went in. The Code Talkers joined 44,000 Native Americans who wore the uniform in World War II. More than 12,000 Native Americans fought in World War I. Thousands more served in Korea, Vietnam and serve to this very day.

Twenty-four Native Americans have earned the highest military distinction of all, the Medal of Honor, including Ernest Childers, who was my guest at the White House last week. In all these wars and conflicts, Native Americans have served with the modesty and strength and quiet valor their tradition has always inspired.

That tradition found full expression in the Code Talkers, in those absent, and in those with us today. Gentlemen, your service inspires the respect and admiration of all Americans, and our gratitude is expressed for all time, in the medals it is now my honor to present.

A few years ago the Deputy Director of Media and Communications (which includes the blog and the magazine) Henry Howard did the final interview with the last living Code Talker, Chester Nez (READ HERE):

Nez lived his life with two mantras: the “Right Way” of the Navajo and the Marine Corps’ Semper Fidelis. He finished high school and later received a degree in fine arts from the University of Kansas. He served in the Korean War as a Marine Corps reservist before raising a family and working at the VA medical center in Albuquerque, N.M., where he retired in 1974.

The last of the original code talkers, Nez traveled with his grandson, Latham, and Avila to tout his memoir and share the group’s legacy. His last public event was sponsored by American Legion Frontenac Post 43 in Pittsburg, Kan., in May.

By that time, much of Nez’s physical strength was gone. The years had taken his hearing; diabetes had claimed both of his legs several years earlier. Even in his final days, however, his mind was as sharp as his character, which was shaped by his tribal and military families alike.

Here’s the video of that amazing man:

So today remember the Code Talkers, men who gave so much for their country.

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Comments

They were one of the major turning point of the war.

Go with the "great Spirit" my warriors, we WILL carry on to victory!

They made a movie about them too.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.