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Navajo

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Navajo Code Talkers:

Unknown Heroes

Seldom has it ever occurred that heroes to our country, let alone in general, have had to wait decades for proper acknowledgement for their heroic deeds. This is not the case for the Navajo Code Talkers. These brave souls had to wait a total of six decades to be acknowledged for their contributions to the United States and the Allied Forces of WWII. The code talkers were an influential piece to the success of the United States forces in the Pacific. Thus had it not been for the Native Americans that volunteered to be code talkers, there might not have been such a drastic turn around in the fighting of the Pacific Theatre.

Prior to the use of the Navajo language as code there had only been one other instance when a native language had been used as code. It was used once in the First World War but instead of it being the language of the Navajo Indians it was Choctaw. "Wartime communications using American Indian languages had been successful during the First World War, one of the most notable examples being the 141st Infantry's use of Choctaw Indians to transmit messages in Europe"( "Coded Contributions" History Today, Jul 91). Even prior to this there are oral traditions about a secret Navajo warrior language that was used in the seven and eighteenth centuries. His coded language was used so that enemies would not be able to hear and understand what was being said.

The United States was in desperate need of a new code in the Pacific Theatre because the other codes were being broken and or took to long to be deciphered and passed along. "Previous codes were so complex that military leaders complained they took hours to decipher. The Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds" ("Navajo Code Talkers Honored with Medals; Language Stumped Japanese during WWII" The Washington Times, 7/27/01). The key to this code was that it was entirely oral, nothing was ever written down. Thus the entire code had to be memorized which would not prove to be too difficult since it was Native Navajos speaking their own language. Some translations were rather simple bombs for example reminded the code talkers of eggs so they used their word for eggs chosea-ye-shi. The native word for frog; chal was used as code for an amphibious assault. "A bomber plane now was jeeshoo (buzzard), a submarine beeshloo (iron fish), and a battleship was lootsoh (whale). Britain became Tota (between the waters), India Ee (white clothes), and Germany Beeshbich aahi (iron hat). Each letter of the alphabet underwent a similar transformation. In the code wolachii (ant) stood for 'a', shash (bear) for 'b' and mosi (cat) for 'c'" (Dinй). On a more comedic note "Descriptive Navajo names for enemies and enemy leaders were coined. Adolf Hitler was Daghailchiih (Moustache Smeller)." ("Coded Contributions" History Today, Jul 91)

It is ironic that the very language white Americans and settlers and missionaries have been urging and forcing the Navajos to stop using since their arrival would be need by the "whites" in order to be successful. Perhaps more ironic was that it was the son of a protestant missionary that came up with a proposal for the idea. This man was named Philip Johnston. He had grown up on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. "His proposal reached the desk of Major General Clayton B. Vogel, Commanding General of the United States Marine Corps Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, in February of 1942" ("Coded Contributions" History Today, Jul 91). From this proposal Johnston brought four Navajos to Vogel's office and had them translate from their native tongue to English and than back again. Vogel was impressed and requested the permission to recruit 200 Navajos, he was granted 30.

The year in 1942 and recruiters have traveled to reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. "Principally from boarding schools at Fort Defiance, Arizona, and Fort Wingate and Shiprock, New Mexico" ("Coded Contributions" History Today, Jul 91)." It is important to remember that this was WWII and at time the credentials for being able to enlist were not strict at all. You were supposed to be eighteen years of age or have parent consent, but this was not a concrete rule. Thousands of soldiers were enlisted and fighting long before they were eighteen years of age.

"......but his parents would not consent because he was only sixteen. During lunch break at the Fort Defiance Indian Health Service Hospital where the physical examinations were being given, he wandered over to the recruiter's table. On it were the files of all of the young volunteers. His was set to one side with a note that 'parents will not consent'. He slipped his file back underneath the rest, minus note, and by the time his seventeenth birthday rolled around, he was in the Pacific" ("Coded Contributions" History Today, Jul 91).

However there were a few more criteria for these code talkers, not only did they need to fluent in Navajo and English, moreover they had to be in the shape to be relaying messages and maneuvering on the battlefield. Also "The equivalent of a tenth grade education was found necessary. White recruits, whose fathers owned reservation trading posts, often volunteered, but could not be accepted because they spoke what the Navajos called 'trading post language' dealing with flour, shoes and sugar, not the complex every day conversations among fluent Navajo speakers" ("Coded Contributions" History Today, Jul 91). The limit of 30 recruits was met however one did drop out of the program and the remaining 29 made up the 382 platoon of the US Marine Corps.

After being trained at camp Elliott near San Diego, 27 of the 29 Navajo code talkers were shipped out to the Guadalcanal to join their respected Marine outfits in the Pacific Theatre. However there were still doubts about the effectiveness of the code and as such before shipped out there was one more test for the code talkers. Immediately the code was felt like it needed to be tested. This test was conducted under conditions similar to that of the battle field

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