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Navajo Code Talkers

Navajo Code Talkers Communicated a War

During World War II the United States Marines needed to communicate in a language the Japanese could never understand.

Top-secret communications were at risk. The Japanese were known as expert code breakers and rarely was a code devised that they didn't eventually understand.

It was Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos, who first thought of the people with whom he had lived most of his life. "Johnston, reared on the Navajo reservation, was a World War I veteran who knew of the military's search for a code that would withstand all attempts to decipher it. He also knew that Native American languages - notably Choctaw - had been used in World War I to encode messages," researcher Alexander Molnar Junior of the U.S. Marine Corps and United States Army noted in an article entitled, "Navajo Code Talkers: World War II Fact Sheet". The article is published online at

In 1942, Johnston met with Major General Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding general of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, and his staff to convince them that the Japanese did not know the syntax and tonal qualities of the Navajos. Its dialect was known to only a handful of people that were not Navajos themselves.

Vogel recommended that the marines recruit 200 Navajos to carryout a mission of protected communications.

Twenty-nine Navajos developed a dictionary and many military terms from Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California. More Native Americans were recruited for the specific purpose of transmitting vital communications over telephones and radios.

Those of Navajo descent might be interested to know that, according to Molnar's research, there were 50,000 Navajo tribe members in 1942. By 1945, about 540 Navajos served as marines. Between 374 and 420 of those trained as code talkers.

The method of secrecy was so critical that those who participated were not recognized for their roles in Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima or any other military operation until 1992. Their code had remained a classified secret invaluable to the United States Armed Forces.

The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. now houses a special exhibit for those who helped to outsmart the enemy during a crucial time of war.

So fascinating was the role of the Navajo Code Talkers that a movie was recently produced to depict the lives of the men who served in this capacity. The film, "Windtalkers," stars Nicolas Cage and was directed by John Woo. Although the movie is not factually accurate in all respects, it could give you one perspective of the mission that helped the United States win the war.

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(submitted by: William B. Lurie (Bill Lurie) of Delray Beach, Florida)

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