Navajo Code Talkers Day is celebrated on August 14, President Ronald Reagan declared in 1982 to officially honor the Code Talkers for their service to our country. During World War II the Allied Forces found it hard to stump the Japanese code breakers or cryptographers. Now a little history: the military was not the one to come up with idea it was civilian named Philip Johnston, he was a civil engineer in Los Angeles but had grown up on the Navajo Indian Reservation, his parents were Protestant missionaries. Johnston read an article about the military communications debilitating losses. Johnston went to Camp Elliott to meet with Lieutenant Colonel James E. Jones, Marines’ Signal Corps Communications Officer. Jones was not convinced that it would work but after Johnston explained the language, inflections and completely different meanings that one word may mean, they gave it a try. The initial run was a success so the Marines needed volunteers by mid-April of 1942, they traveled to the Navajo reservation to recruit personnel. Now these recruits had to be bilingual in both English and Navajo languages. The enlistees also had to be physically fit. After boot camp, the new Marines were to construct a new Military code. “The first part, a 26-letter phonetic alphabet, used Navajo names for 18 animals or birds, plus the words ice for I, nut for N, quiver for Q, Ute for U, victor for V, cross for X, yucca for Y, and zinc for Z. The second part consisted of a 211-word English vocabulary and the Navajo equivalents. This code, when compared with conventional Marine Corps codes, offered considerable savings in time, since the latter involved lengthy encoding and deciphering procedures by Signal Corps cryptographic personnel using sophisticated electronic equipment.” http://www.historynet.com/world-war-ii-navajo-code-talkers.htm
There were 29 original Code Talkers. This became the 382nd Platoon USMC. By August 1943 the number swelled to over 200. 421 Navajos had completed wartime training at Camp Pendleton’s code talker school, and most had been assigned to combat units overseas. Navajo code talkers served with all six Marine divisions in the Pacific and with Marine Raider and parachute units as well. Major Howard Conner, the Fifth Marine Division’s Signal Officer, said that ‘The entire operation was directed by Navajo code. . . . During the two days that fol lowed the initial landings I had six Navajo radio nets working around the clock. . . . They sent and received over 800 messages without an error. Were it not for the Navajo Code Talkers, the Marines never would have taken Iwo Jima.’
In December of 2000 the US Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed into law, which awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the original twenty-nine World War II Navajo code talkers, and the Silver Medal to each person who qualified as a Navajo code talker (approximately 300). In July 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush personally presented the Medal to four surviving original code talkers (the fifth living original code talker was not able to make it) at a ceremony held in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. Gold medals were presented to the families of the 24 original code talkers no longer living.
The last of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers passed away this year, June 4, 2014. His name is Chester Nez. Mr. Nez has a memoir, its title is: Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII
Hollywood made an historical fictional movie about Navajo Code Talkers, Windtalkers, released in 2002.