Communication is always an important part of any military operation, and during World War II, nations were beginning to get a lot more creative. Technological changes and a shift in tactics would showcase a variety of new ideas to the battlefield, including using coded languages to get out messages among those fighting. The Code Talkers was an idea birthed out of innovation and necessity using warriors of Navajo descent. Their work would go on to help America control the Pacific Theater, win World War II, and demonstrate the important role that Native Americans played in helping defend a country whose government had been far less than fair to them.
Who Were the Navajo Code Talkers?
During WWII, the Navajo Code Talkers were a group of Navajo warriors in the U.S. Marine Corps. The Code Talkers were brought together to help create a secret code that would be based on their language, allowing the U.S. military to send sensitive information across phones and radios without the fear of being intercepted.
This technique would go on to become a huge success and was a classified operation until 1968. Even then, it wouldn’t be until the 1980s before widespread recognition would be achieved. Nevertheless, the secrecy of the group’s exploits helped ensure that their actions were successful.
Reaching back even further in history, the pioneers of such code-talking techniques can be found in World War I. Although the Navajo people and language are well-known for their contributions, both the Cherokee and Choctaw helped use these techniques for different successes.
Additionally, other Native American Code Talkers in WW2 helped deploy code-talking methods throughout the conflict. Some of the other Native American Code Talkers included the Comanche, Cree, Crow, Hopi, Meskwaki, Mohawk, Lakota, and Tlingit.
Who First Proposed Use of the Navajo Code Talkers?
Philip Johnston was a World War I Veteran and son of missionaries who grew up in the Navajo Nation. He proposed the idea of using the Navajo Code Talkers in WW2, as he was not only fluent in their language but understood the need for encoded messages from his time serving.
When we look at how Navajo Code Talker Marines used their indigenous language to help win World War II, there were plenty of skeptics at first. But Johnston had the experience and skill to make things work and convince the Marines back in 1942.
The fact was that America’s other codes had been cracked no matter what they used. This meant that even with switching and developing new codes, nothing was long-lasting, and this continued to provide hurdles for the Allies.
The Navajo Code Talkers worked out for many reasons, but two great benefits came from the fact that not only was their language a unique one not recognized outside of their region, but it was also unwritten for the most part.
A harsh reality was also creating favorable conditions for the U.S. government. More and more Navajo men were capable of speaking both their native tongue as well as English. This was a result of the American government’s efforts to assimilate Native American children and have them forgo their heritage.
This allowed Johnston the chance to begin training 29 young Navajo Marines and develop its code. Over 211 words would end up expanding to 411 words before the end of the war, and these efforts helped establish a complex code that led to victory for the Americans in WWII.
The expansion would mean almost 400 Navajo Code Talkers by the end of the war. These men were working diligently to decipher codes that couldn’t and weren’t written down. This meant that they had to mentally decode messages in real-time using only their minds.
“We acted as coding machines, transmitting messages that would have taken a couple of hours in just a couple of minutes. We could never make a mistake because many communications involved bombing coordinates,” said Chester Nez, one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers.
You can learn more about the role of Code Talkers in WWII directly from another Code Talker, Roy Hawthorne, in the video below:
How Many Navajo Code Talkers Were There?
Around 400 Navajo Code Talkers served in WWII. Throughout their time serving, the Code Talkers never had their code broken. For the duration of the war, their talents would be a driving force in advancing American communications. The Code Talkers were kept a secret for obvious reasons, but now, their story is a unique and popular one that was vital in helping the U.S. secure victory.
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