Navajo Code Talkers
Communication is essential during any war and World War II was no different. From battalion to battalion or ship to ship – everyone must stay in contact to know when and where to attack or when to fall back. If the enemy were to hear these tactical conversations, not only would the element of surprise be lost, but the enemy could also reposition and get the upper hand. Codes (encryptions) were essential to protect these conversations.
Unfortunately, though codes were often used, they were also frequently broken. In 1942, a man named Philip Johnston thought of a code he thought unbreakable by the enemy. A code based on the Navajo language.
The initial code consisted of translations for 211 English words most frequently used in military conversations. Included in the list were terms for officers, terms for airplanes, terms for months, and an extensive general vocabulary. Also included were Navajo equivalents for the English alphabet so that the code talkers could spell out names or specific places.
On the battlefield, the code was never written down, it was always spoken. In training, they had been repeatedly drilled with all 411 terms. The Navajo code talkers had to be able to send and receive the code as fast as possible. There was no time for hesitation. Trained and now fluent in the code, the Navajo code talkers were ready for battle.
From 1942 until 1945, Navajo code talkers participated in numerous battles in the Pacific, including Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Peleliu, and Tarawa. They not only worked in communications but also as regular soldiers, facing the same horrors of war as other soldiers.
Huddled over their radio sets in bobbing assault barges, in foxholes on the beach, in slit trenches, deep in the jungle, the Navajo Marines transmitted and received messages, orders, vital information. The Japanese ground their teeth and committed hari-kari.*
The Navajo code talkers played a large role in the Allied success in the Pacific. The Navajos had created a code the enemy was unable to decipher.
Bixler, Margaret T. Winds of Freedom: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. Darien, CT: Two Bytes Publishing Company, 1992.
Kawano, Kenji. Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Publishing Company, 1990.
Paul, Doris A. The Navajo Code Talkers. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Co., 1973.
* Excerpt from the September 18, 1945 issues of the San Diego Union as quoted in Doris A. Paul, The Navajo Code Talkers (Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Co., 1973) 99.