As we celebrate Veteran’s day on November 11th, it is important to remember all those who gave their lives, limbs, sweat and tears to fortify our country from enemies. With November also being Native American Heritage month this segment will focus on the Navajo code talkers of World War II. It was in this war that the Navajo language proved invaluable to the Allied efforts in stopping Japan and saving many U.S. lives.
According to the official U.S. Marine Corps website, the use of the Navajo language came after failed attempts to create communication codes in early World War II. The Japanese were increasingly quick at breaking the American cryptographers codes and even creating fake distress calls which led to ambushes. This led to the idea of a man from California named Philip Johnston, who as the son of a missionary lived with and understood the Navajo language. Since the Navajo language was based in the U.S., specifically the Southwestern portion, it would be near impossible for the Japanese, German, or Italian forces to decode.
His proposition became a reality on the basis that the language was not written, had no alphabet, and was very difficult to learn without years of exposure. These factors led to the first unit of 29 men forming in 1942, some as young as 15, to enlist and train. This first group of 29 was the soldiers that created the code based off their Navajo language. The final number would swell to 420 marines specialized as Code Talkers, each one inheriting the responsibilities of secrecy in the use of their sacred language.
The Code Talkers could relay messages in as little as 20 seconds whereas the previous methods could take up to 2 hours to decode. This 600-term code was effective and lifesaving in the Pacific theater of WWII, with the Navajo soldiers coding 800 transmissions during the first 48 hours of Iwo Jima. Their heroism and focus in the battle is honored in many sites around the world, especially in the western United States. Unfortunately this praise and acknowledgment of their efforts would go unnoticed until the declassification of the Code Talker program in the 1960’s because of the secrecy surrounding their code. As a vital tool in World War II it wasn’t until 2001 that the surviving Code Talkers were given their well-deserved Congressional Medal of Honor.
For more information about these veterans and their contributions to the war effort, the official website for the code talkers can be found at