Thursday, November 25, 2010


The Navajo Code Talkers, as they became known, were the key to America's success in World War II. They were Navajo United States 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 Camp Elliott 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 and Okinawa, 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.

Philip Johnston was an engineer living in California at the start of World War II. He was the son of a Navajo missionary. He was not a Navajo, but grew up on the Navajo Reservation. He knew all of the Navajo customs and spoke the language fluently. He was the person who had the concept of using the complex Navajo language for communications to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

Philip Johnston was a veteran of World War I, and heard how eight Choctaw Indians had sent messages to each other in their native tongue during a battle against the Germans at the end of World War I. These few messages had helped to win the battle, since the Germans had no idea of what was being said. He knew that the military were searching for a new secret code to use against the Japanese. He thought that the Navajo language would be the perfect answer. Mr. Johnston presented his idea to Major General Clayton B. Vogel, USMC, Commanding General of the Pacific Fleet. General Vogel allowed Mr. Johnston to give a demonstration at Camp Elliott in California using a few Navajos who resided in California. The demonstration was so successful that General Vogel recommended the recruitment into the Marine Corps of at least 200 Navajos for the Code Talker Program. Almost immediately, 29 Navajos were recruited, and they started developing their unbreakable code.