Native Village
Youth and Education news

December 2009  Volume 1

Navajo Code Talkers break silence
Condensed by Native Village

NEW YORK - The famed Navajo Code Talkers were an elite Marine unit.  Their unbreakable Navajo-language code tricked the Japanese in World War II.

The code talkers served in every Marine assault in the South Pacific between 1942 and 1945. They helped the U.S. prevail and win at Iwo Jim and other WW II battles. Military commanders say the code, transmitted verbally by radio, helped save countless lives and brought a speedier end to the War in the Pacific.

The Navajo code talkers were sworn to secrecy about their code. Even other Navajo Marines couldn't decipher it. It remained unbroken and classified for decades because of its potential postwar use.

"We were never told that our code was never decoded" or given identities of the original 29 Navajos who created it," said Keith Little, 85. "It was all covered by secrecy.  We were constantly told not to talk about it."

The Code Talkers honored their secrecy orders, even after the code was declassified in 1968.

Today, however, only about  50 of the 400 Code Talkers are still alive. Most live on the Navajo Nation reservation.   Many are frail or ill. They have little time left to tell the world about their wartime contribution.

In November, 13 Navajo Code Talkers arrived in New York City to participate in the nation's largest Veterans Day parade. The oldest Code Talkers was 92, and one belonged to the original 29.  Many who served in the war were young farmers and sheepherders who had never been away from home.

"The code did a lot of damage to the enemy," said Samuel Tom Holiday, 85.  He was a 20-year-old Code Talker when he and two other Marines went behind enemy lines on Iwo Jima to locate a Japanese artillery unit advancing on American forces.

Recognition from the U.S.  government and awareness of the Code Talkers -- even within the Navajo community -- has been slow.  It wasn't until 2000 that the Congressional Gold Medal was given to the survivors of the original 29 Code Talkers and silver medals to the rest.

The 2002 film "Windtalkers," starring Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater helped shed further light on the group.

At least five Code Talkers died this year, creating an urgency for the Navajo Code Talkers Foundation to build a  museum in their honor near Window Rock, Ariz.  That museum is slated to open sometime in 2012.

The Code Talkers hoped their  New York trip raised awareness of their efforts and will help with donations for the museum.

"Our language was used to help win the war," Holiday said. "After we're all gone, there will be no one to tell the story."

Navajo Code Talker radio transmission:
List of Names of Navajo Codetalkers


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