Navajo Indians were enlisted to convey top secret communications for the U. S. Marines after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Known as Navajo Code Talkers, these young men created an oral cryptogram the enemy was unable to decipher, fulfilling a vital role during World War II and saving an innumerable amount lives. For the American Armed Forces, communications, which had always been a multifarious issue, had now become a bewildering burden. Japanese cryptographers were proving themselves amazingly capable of breaking top secret military codes almost as quickly as newer, more intricate procedures could be made.
Many of the Japanese code breakers had been schooled in the United States where they had learned to speak English and had become familiar with the American way of life. Knowing the language and slang terms meant that the Japanese knew every possible code the Americans could come up with, and therefore the Americans sought a new language for their cypher. Only Navajo Indians and a few missionaries could understand the native Navajo language. This new “American” language gave the United States an advantage over the Japanese code breakers.
At Camp Pendleton, a military base, the Navajos, in addition to their other duties, were required to devise an up-to-date military code which, when translated into their own language, would completely confound the enemies. The code’s words had to be short and easy to learn so that it could be put together quickly. After working long and hard on the assignment, the men had formulated a two-part cryptogram that would never be cracked by the Japanese. Phillip Johnston, a civil engineer from the city of Los Angeles, was informed of the code cracking issue.
Having grown up on a Navajo reservation, Johnston – one of the few outsiders fluent in the Navajo language – had a solution. This Nataive-American language does not have an alphabet and Johnston realized that without early exposure to it, the Navajo language was almost unfeasible to master, making it a prospective basis for an indecipherable code. Phillip Johnston formulated a plan and was able to present it to a numerous of top commanders, who were awe-struck with his presentation. They granted him permission to begin a trial program with this code.
It was early in 1942 when Johnston recruited the first of the twenty-nine Code Talkers. The twenty-nine Navajos – often referred to as the ‘original 29′ – who played a part and were credited with conceiving the code – though it was changed and lengthened on throughout the war. Some of the Navajo boys recruited were as young as fifteen and others were as old as thirty-five. Because many of them did not have birth certificates, the military had no way of verifying their actual ages. It wasn’t until after the war their actual ages were discovered.
Whether young or old, they were all more than capable of handling the rigors of basic training. Apart from making codes in their native language, Navajo Indians also fought as soldiers in the Pacific theater of the second World War. Navajo code talkers served with all six Marine sects in the Pacific and with Marine Raider and parachute units. Praise for their work became boundless as they joined in major Marine assaults and many key battles, including the Solomons, the Marianas, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima.
Major Howard Conner, the Fifth Marine Division’s Signal Officer, in speaking about the key Allied win at Iwo Jima, commented that “The entire operation was directed by Navajo code. During the two days that followed the initial landings I had six Navajo radio nets working around the clock. They sent and received over 800 messages without an error. Were it not for the Navajo Code Talkers, the Marines never would have taken Iwo Jima. ” The Navajo code, and the Indians that fought were vital to the victory at Iwo Jima that eventually led to the Allies’ defeat of Japan at Okinawa and finally the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.
To this day, the Navajo Code Talkers code remains the only unbroken code not only in World War II, but in the history of the modern military. This code is commonly recognized as a major part the success of each of the major battles fought in the South Pacific theater. Not only is the Navajo code credited with saving countless lives, it is believed to have significantly assisted in ending the war. Despite their successful and valuable contribution to World War II, the code talkers did not receive recognition for their work until it was released to the public in 1968.
Then in 1982, President Ronald Reagan awarded each of the code talkers a Certificate of Recognition for their participation in the war. He also declared August 14, 1982 ‘Navajo Code Talkers Day’. The code talkers each also received a congressional medal for their efforts in ending the war and aiding the United States military. Without the successful code of the Navajo Indians, the second World War could have continued to rage on and destroy lives, spirits, and property. The victory over the Japanese imperialists may not have been possible without the code created by these brave twenty-nine men.