The Navajo Code Talkers, as they became known, were the key to America's
success in World War II. They were Navajo Marines who created a secret code that made it
possible for the United States to defeat the Japanese in World War II
and end the war. Before World War II, every code that the United States had created
for warfare had been broken. Known as experts at code deciphering, the Japanese were
never able to decipher the Navajo's secret code.
The success of the code was due, in a large
part, to the complexity of the Navajo language. At the
outbreak of World War II, there were only thirty non-Navajos who could speak the language,
and not all of them could speak it fluently. Philip Johnston, had
grown up on the Navajo Reservation, and could speak Navajo very well. He was a
veteran of World War I, and had heard about a battle in that war, in which several Choctaw
Indians were talking to each other by radio in their native language. It completely
fooled the Germans, who were listening. The tide of the battle turned around, and the
Americans won. With his knowledge of the Navajo people and their language, Mr.
Johnston thought that the Navajos could easily devise a way of talking that no one would
be able to understand.
With the somewhat skeptical approval by the
U.S. Marines of Mr. Johnston's idea, recruitment for Code Talkers began in the spring of
1942. Two recruiters from the U.S. Marine Corps went to the Navajo Reservation and
met with Chee Dodge, Chairman of the Tribal Council. He liked the idea and sent out
word by shortwave radio to the Reservation. There was an immediate, excited
response. The candidates had to be fluent in both English and Navajo. Many of
them were just school boys and lied about their age, just to have the opportunity to go
and fight for their country and protect it from the Japanese. Twenty-nine Navajos
were inducted into the Marines.
These twenty-nine men were sent
by train to boot camp at Fort Elliot in California where they became the 382nd Platoon,
USMC. There, they had to learn to survive the harsh environment they would encounter
in the Pacific. Due to their ancestral background and way of life, the Navajos
proved to have outstanding physical endurance and qualities. The challenge in their
training came when staff officers who were worried that there might be someone who could
understand Navajo, asked them to encode the Navajo language. Hence, the creation of
the unbreakable code. After this code was created,
it was tested on some Navajos who weren't Code Talkers and they were unable to understand
it. The Marines then decided to start training 200 more Code Talkers.
The 382nd Platoon, USMC, was sent to
Guadalcanal to begin fighting. When they first arrived in the Pacific, some Marine
field commanders were confused about the role the Code Talkers were to play. But as
they paired with the Communication Specialists in the Pacific, their true value became
apparent. They handled all major battlefield communications while the Americans were
fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. Not one of their messages was
deciphered. In the last battle of the war, the fight for Iwo Jima, they sent more
than 800 critical messages. By the end of the war there were 540 Navajo Marines and
about 420 of these were trained as Code Talkers. When the Code Talkers returned home
after the war, most of them participated in the Enemy Way Ceremony, a native ritual,
performed for getting rid of evil spirits.
It is almost certain that America would not
have been able to win the war without the Navajo Code Talkers, and it is hard to estimate
the number of American lives that they saved. It is believed that their code is the
only truly unbreakable code in the history of warfare.