By Earl Keaton
Words from the wise never had a cryptic meaning until the Navajo ‘Code Talkers,’ later romanticized by the movie Wind Talkers, became the saving secret code during World War II. Recently, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, were honored by a visit from four Navajo Code Talkers. Their native tongue foiled the Japanese attempts to further assault Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Samuel Tso, Bill Toledo, Frank Chee Willetto and Keith Little, Navajo Code Talkers, enlisted in the war to defend and protect America, finding themselves to be members of the nations’ secret weapon during WWII. Enraged by the attack on Pearl Harbor, many Navajos enlisted to join the fight. A select group of Marines adapted a version of their native language to protect our communications. It was very successful. The Japanese never cracked the code. It was the unique weapon of the Navajo Indians, an unwritten language.
24 Navajo code Talkers were attached to the Third Marine Division serving from Guadal Canal to Iwo Jima and beyond. 8 Indian soldiers served in the U.S. Army Africa in the 168th Infantry, 34th Division 17 Comanche soldiers in Europe , in the 4th Signal company, 4th Infantry Division
The idea of using this almost archaic language came from Philip Johnston, a World War I Veteran who grew up in a Navajo Reservation as a missionary’s son. Johnston, a non-Navajo, who spoke the unwritten language, believed this was an undecipherable code. He was right! ‘It was a weapon for which they (Japanese) could never find an answer,’ remarked 84 year, old, Code Talker, Frank Chee Willetto while in New Orleans recently. The idea of using a foreign language was not novel, but Johnston knew the Navajos spoke English and a native tongue that no Germans, Japanese or any other enemy combatants knew existed or could be researched. The Navajo language never played such a significant role in American history until they provided secure authenticated oral communications to prevent eavesdropping. There was a company of Indian soldiers in France during WWI in the 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Division, who spoke 26 languages and dialects.
Code talkers were deployed September 1942 on Guadalcanal in the 3th Marine Division operating six Navajo radio nets sending more than 800 messages without error. They were responsible for the message that Marines had reached the summit of Mt. Suribachi, where the famous flag-raising took place. The flag-raising is memorialized as a statue in Washington, D.C. No coded messages were ever interpreted. Many English words did not translate in Navaho. For example, Commanding General was Bih Keh He; Warrior Chief, or Commanding Officer was Hash Kay Gi Na Tah, also translated as Warrior Chief. They had a sense of humor too. Tkele Cho G was jackass, whomever they were referring to.
The new technology of Navajo Code Talking was not accepted readily by their superiors until evidenced that their ‘talk’ was decoded faster than others. The Navajos were more efficient, but had to prove themselves. American Indians have served in the United States Military with distinction for the past 200 years. Their courage, determination and fighting spirit were recognized by American military leaders as early as the 18th century. During WWII their distinction as changing the course of the war wasn’t acknowledged immediately after the war ended. Their work remained classified until 2002 when Congress passed the Code Talker’s Recognitionj Act. President Bush had thanked them at a ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda, on July 26, 2001 in which they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. The National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, Maryland has a co de talker exhibit. They have a rightful place in the new International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. These WWII Navajo warriors have come to be known as, ‘The Sons of the Land of Enchantment’.
About the Author: Saunders Insignia is a major supplier of insignia for the military. We stock over 15,000 items including
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Earl F. Keaton the G.M. of http://SaundersInsignia.com has a B.S. from California Polytechnic University, USN reserve 4 years, USAF Technical advisor Korean War.