The Code Talkers

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Celebrate 29 remarkable Native Americans.

In 1942, 29 Navajo men joined the U.S. Marines and developed an unbreakable code that would be used across the Pacific during World War II. The Navajo Code Talkers participated in all assaults the U.S. Marines led in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, including Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu and Iwo Jima. The Code Talkers conveyed messages by telephone and radio in their native language, a code that was never broken by the Japanese.

In the early part of World War II, the enemy was breaking every military code that was being used in the Pacific. This created a huge problem for military planning and communcation. Eventually, a suggestion was made in early 1942 to use Navajo language as a code.  The initial recruitment of Navajo Code Talkers was approved, but the Navajo men would have to meet the regular qualifications for enlistment in the Marine Corps as well as meet the linguistic requirements in  both English and Navajo.  The original 29 Navajo Code Talkers were Charlie Sosie Begay, Roy Begay, Samuel H. Begay, John Ashi Benally, Wilsie Bitsie, Cosey Stanley Brown, John Brown Jr., John Chee, Benjamin Cleveland, Eugene Crawford, David Curley, Lowell Damon, George Dennison, James Dixon, William McCabe, Carl Gorman, Oscar Ilthma, Allen June, Alfred Leonard, James Manuelito Sr., Chester Nez, Jack Nez, Lloyd Oliver, Frank Pete, Balmer Slowtalker, Nelson Thompson, Harry Tsosie, John Willfe Jr. and Yazzie William.

The Code Talkers created their own code using the language of the Diné. The radio code comprised words selected from the Diné language and applied to military phrases. The initial code featured 211 terms, and during the course of World War II, it expanded to 411. The Diné language has no military terminology, and most of the code developed was new and instilled with military meaning. For example, the Diné word used for ships was "Toh-Dineh-ih," which means Sea Force.

Since their work was still classified, the Navajo Code Talkers returned from World War II without praise or parades to welcome them home. Even after the program was declassified in 1968, the Navajo Code Talkers' role was not widely shared.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared Aug. 14 as National Code Talkers Day. In 2000, the Honoring the Navajo Code Talkers Act was signed into law, and by 2001, the Navajo Code Talkers were honored with Congressional Gold and Silver Medals.