Navajo Code Talkers In World War Ii

Essay, Research Paper

Adam Adkins put the role of the Navajo Code Talkers in World War II when he said “Intelligence is an offensive weapon, one which searches out the vulnerable points again and again until they to are made weak. The only defense against intelligence is security and no form of security is more effective or important than communications security” (Adkins 319). The importance of being able to communicate with one another without the enemy knowing what is being said is very valuable to the war effort. They allowed us to communicate without the threat of being heard.

The idea of using Native Americans as a way to communicate without being heard actually had its roots in World War I. The 142nd Infantry felt that the Germans had tapped their telephone communications near the end of the war. Due to very primitive form of coding messages and the time it took to send a message in code and then to UN-code the message, this was not a very effective form of Communicating. So one Choctaw Indian named Mose Bellmard, who was serving in the 142nd offered his native language as a way to communicate. The first time they used the Language the order was to move troops from one village to another therefore surprising the Germans and the campaign was a success (Adkins 323).

The idea of using the Navajos in this same capacity came from a man named Philip Johnston. Johnston was the son of a Protestant missionary who served on the Navajo Reservations. He first moved to the reservation at the age of four, by way of the wagon in 1896. He was a Civil Engineer in Los Angeles when World War II broke out McCoy 68). He was aware of the army’s use of the Choctaw Indians in World War I. so he came up with an idea to use the Navajo language as a form of communicating. He first approached the United States Army Air Force but when they showed no interest, he went to the Marines. He initially talked to Major General Clayton B. Bogel. Philip put on a demonstration for the General Vogel at a Los Angeles football field. Johnston brought six Navafo Indians with him to demonstrate. Different marine leaders gave messages to the Navajos to send to the other end of the football field. Astoundingly, the Navajo Indians interpreted all the messages without error (McCoy 68). Johnston also argued that Navajo language had never been written down and he estimated that only 30 non-Navajos spoke the Language, none of the people being Japanese. This was the beginning of the Navajo Code Talkers as we know them. Philip Johnston was rewarded for his idea by being appointed Master Seargent in the U.S. Marines.

General Vogel initially wanted to recruit over 200 Navajos to code talk. He was vetoed by the Commandant of the Marines. He was only allowed to recruit 30. In May of 1942, the first 29 Navajos were sent to Boot Camp. They were treated just like any other enlisted man. Because of Security reasons not even the Seargent placed in charge of drilling the Navajos were let in on what these men were being used for. Apparently they did very well in Boot Camp. Lt. Colonel George Hall had this to say about their performance: “This group has done exceptionally well at this depot. They are very tractable, attentive and loyal. At an early date they developed an exceptionally high Esprit de Corps” (Adkins 373). After Boot Camp these men were sent to Camp Elliott to start to learn how to communicate.

They were taught how to work with radios, and telephones that they would use in the bush. They were even taught Mosrse code. They also were assigned the chore of writing the Navajo Language down on paper. This was part of the appeal, of the Navajo Language. It was on paper therefore the Japanese could not study the language. Since the Navajo language does not have the military words in it, the Navajo’s were forced to make up names. Here’s a few exapmples of what they came up with: for an observation plane, the word they used was Navajo for owl, or for a dive bomber, they used chicken hawk (Lopez 1). The other thing they did was establish an alphabet so they could spell words they had no affiliation with. A good example of this was the Message in 1944 at Tinian. That had now word for Tinian so they had to spell it out. The message read T-I-N-I-A-N ATTACK READY (McCoy 70). They even went so far as to give letters that would be repeat two or three different names. For example, the Letter A would be associated with apple, ax and ant. So the code they came up with was very effective.

The code was so effective that the Japanese never figured out even what language it was. There was a misconception that the Japanese were very skilled at breaking codes. It wasn’t that they were so skilled, it was that the United States just did not have a very effective code. It was so effective that a captured Navajo could not even crack it. There was a Navajo who was captured and who survived the Bataan death march. The guys name was Joe Keiyoomia. He was forced to listen to the code and was put under threats of torture but he couldn’t even figure out what they were saying. His exact words were ” but I never could figure out what you guys who got me into all that trouble were saying” (McCoy 71). Another example of how effective the Code talkers were was Philip Johnston. he had grown up on the Navajo reservation and came up with the idea. Even he could not figure out what the Code Talkers were saying (Adkins 339). The Marines knew how effective the Navajo code talker’s were as well. One marine was quoted as saying, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” The success of the Navajos was outstanding but there were a few negatives.

The first of the negatives came during boot camp. The Navajos are basically a non-violent people. During boot camp they were taught to be more violent than they were accustomed to be. For example, one of their drill officers was teaching them to box. The Navajos were not familiar with boxing techniques and the Seargent in charge became very perturbed at their progress. So he began punching each of the Navajos in the face until one of the men could not take it anymore and punched him back (Adkins 343).

The second problem was that the Navajos tended to have a similar resemblance to the Japanese. In one instance, a navajo got lost and ended getting captured by some American soldiers. When the navajo pleaded that he was an American, the soldiers did not believe him. So they took him at gunpoint back to the American leadership. When they got back the American leadership go everything straightened out (Adkins 344). After this, the code talkers were assigned body bands to prevent these mix ups from happening again.

The final problem was there wasn’t enough Navajos to fill all the spots needed. On the reservation there is not too many men that could fill all the requirements. To be a Navajo Code Talker you had to be fluent in Navajo as well as English. This eliminated the majority of the Navajo Men.

For the most part though the Navajo Code Talkers were a tremendous success. For the people who were forced off land, forced to take the long walk, and for these people to come through the way they did was awesome. The United States owe these people an awful lot. There has been a memorial set up at the Pentagon where people regularly visit.

Adkins, Adam “Secret War: The Navajo Code Talkers in World War II” New Mexico Historical Review pp. 319-345 October 1997.

Lopez, Yvette “Navajo Code Talkers” jeremy/crypt/contrib/lopex2.html pp1-3.

McCoy, Ron “Navajo Code Talkers of World War II” American Heritage 67-73 1984.


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