Navajo Code Talkers

Tuesday, March 8, 2022 5:58:38 PM

Navajo Code Talkers

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Navajo Code Talker Explains Role in WWII

Video: Samuel F. Sandoval, one of the four surviving Navajo Code Talkers, discusses his military career and the Navajo language. When the United States entered World War I in April , it had not yet granted citizenship to all Native Americans, and government-run boarding schools were still largely attempting to stamp out their languages and cultures. Nonetheless, several thousand Native Americans enlisted in the armed forces to fight the Central Powers.

Nearly 1, of them representing some 26 tribes joined the 36th Division alone, which consisted of men from Texas and Oklahoma. In summer , the 36th Division arrived in France to participate in the upcoming Meuse-Argonne campaign , a major offensive along the Western Front. At that point, the outcome of the conflict was still in doubt. Meadows, a Native American studies professor at Missouri State University and expert on code talking. An apocryphal story spread around that a German once interrupted a U. Signal Corps member sending a message to taunt his use of code words. Sending out human runners proved equally ineffective, since about one in four were captured or killed.

And other methods of communications, such as color-coded rockets, electronic buzzers and carrier pigeons, were too limiting, too slow, too unreliable or a combination thereof. Soon after the Meuse-Argonne campaign got underway, a company commander in the 36th Division reportedly happened to overhear two of his soldiers conversing in Choctaw. In a flash, he recognized the military potential of the language, essentially unknown to the Germans, and persuaded his superiors to post a Choctaw speaker at various field company headquarters. On October 26, , the Choctaws were put to use for the first time as part of the withdrawal of two companies from the front. Having completed this mission without mishap, they then played a major role the following two days in an attack on a strongly fortified German position called Forest Ferme.

Jones was skeptical. Previous attempts at similar codes failed because Native Americans had no words in their language for military terms. There was no need for Navajos to add a word in their language for "tank" or "machine gun" just as there is no reason in English to have different terms for your mother's brother and your father's brother - as some languages do - they're just both called "uncle. For example, in German a radio is called "Radio" and a computer is "Computer. Jones was concerned that if they used any Native American languages as codes, the word for "machine gun" would become the English word "machine gun" - making the code easily decipherable. However, Johnston had another idea. Instead of adding the direct term "machine gun" to the Navajo language, they would designate a word or two already in the Navajo language for the military term.

For example, the term for "machine gun" became "rapid-fire gun," the term for "battleship" became "whale," and the term for "fighter plane" became "hummingbird. Jones recommended a demonstration for Major General Clayton B. The demonstration was a success and Major General Vogel sent a letter to the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps recommending that they enlist Navajos for this assignment. In response to the request, they were only given permission to begin a "pilot project" with 30 Navajos. Recruiters visited the Navajo reservation and selected the first 30 code talkers one dropped out, so 29 started the program. Many of these young Navajos had never been off the reservation, making their transition to military life even more difficult.

Yet they persevered. They worked night and day helping to create the code and to learn it. Once the code was created, the Navajo recruits were tested and re-tested. There could be no mistakes in any of the translations. One mistranslated word could lead to the death of thousands. Once the first 29 were trained, two remained behind to become instructors for future Navajo code talkers and the other 27 were sent to Guadalcanal to be the first to use the new code in combat. Having not gotten to participate in the creation of the code because he was a civilian, Johnston volunteered to enlist if he could participate in the program. His offer was accepted and Johnston took over the training aspect of the program. The program proved successful and soon the U.

Marine Corps authorized unlimited recruiting for the Navajo code talkers program. The entire Navajo nation consisted of 50, people and by the end of the war Navajo men worked as code talkers. The initial code consisted of translations for 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.

However, cryptographer Captain Stilwell suggested that the code be expanded. While monitoring several transmissions, he noticed that since so many words had to be spelled out, the repetition of the Navajo equivalents for each letter could possibly offer the Japanese an opportunity to decipher the code. The code, now complete, consisted of terms. On the battlefield, the code was never written down, it was always spoken.

In training, they had been repeatedly drilled with all 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. On the Battlefield. Unfortunately, when the Navajo code was first introduced, military leaders in the field were skeptical. Many of the first recruits had to prove the codes' worth. However, with just a few examples, most commanders were grateful for the speed and accuracy in which messages could be communicated. From until , Navajo code talkers participated in numerous battles in the Pacific, including Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Peleliu, and Tarawa.

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