Navajo Code Talkers

By AJ Jarman

1. The Navajo language was used because it was an unwritten language of extreme complexity.
2. Every code up until the Navajo language that the United States had used had been broken.
3. Only thirty non-Navajo people could speak the language, and not all of them could speak it fluently.
4. The United States Marines recruited Navajo soldiers to develop a military code that the Japanese could not break.
5. World War II wasn’t the first time a Native American language was used to create a code. During World War I, the Choctaw language was used in the transmission of secret tactical messages.
6. Germany and Japan sent students to the United States after World War I to study Native American languages and cultures, such as Cherokee, Choctaw, and Comanche. Because of this, many members of the U.S. military services were uneasy about continuing to use Code Talkers during World War II. They were afraid the code would be easily cracked, but that was before they learned about the complexity of Navajo.
7. Philip Johnston became so fluent in the Navajo language that he was asked at age 9 to serve as an interpreter for a Navajo delegation sent to Washington, D.C., to lobby for Indian rights.
8. The Marine Corps took the code to the next level and made it virtually unbreakable by further encoding the language with word substitution.
9. In recognition of their dedicated service to America during World War II, the Navajo code talkers were awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the President of the United States in December 1981.
10. One way to say the word "Navy" in Navajo code would be "tsah (needle) wol-la-chee (ant) ah-keh-di- glini (victor) tsah-ah-dzoh (yucca)."
11. At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima."
12. Native Americans were not able to vote until three years after the war.
13. The Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units, transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language a code that the Japanese never broke.
14. The idea to use Navajo for secure communications came from Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos and one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently.
15. Johnston was a World War I veteran who knew of the military's search for a code that would withstand all attempts to decipher it. He also knew that Native American languages notably Choctaw had been used in World War I to encode messages.
16. The Navajo language's syntax and tonal qualities, not to mention dialects, make it unintelligible to anyone without extensive exposure and training. It has no alphabet or symbols, and is spoken only on the Navajo lands of the American Southwest. One estimate indicates that less than 30 non-Navajos, none of them Japanese, could understand the language at the outbreak of World War II. 17. Early in 1942, Johnston met with Major General Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding general of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, and his staff to convince them of the Navajo language's value as code. Johnston staged tests under simulated combat conditions, demonstrating that Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds. Machines of the time required 30 minutes to perform the same job. Convinced, Vogel recommended to the Commandant of the Marine Corps that the Marines recruit 200 Navajos. 18. In May 1942, the first 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp. Then, at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California, this first group created the Navajo code. They developed a dictionary and numerous words for military terms. The dictionary and all code words had to be memorized during training.
19. Once a Navajo code talker completed his training, he was sent to a Marine unit deployed in the Pacific theater. The code talkers' primary job was to talk, transmitting information on tactics and troop movements, orders and other vital battlefield communications over telephones and radios. They also acted as messengers, and performed general Marine duties.
20. Praise for their skill, speed and accuracy accrued throughout the war. At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima." Connor had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. Those six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error. 21. The Japanese, who were skilled code breakers, remained baffled by the Navajo language. The Japanese chief of intelligence, Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue, said that while they were able to decipher the codes used by the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps, they never cracked the code used by the Marines.
22. In 1942, there were about 50,000 Navajo tribe members. As of 1945, about 540 Navajos served as Marines. From 375 to 420 of those trained as code talkers; the rest served in other capacities.
23. When a Navajo code talker received a message, what he heard was a string of seemingly unrelated Navajo words. The code talker first had to translate each Navajo word into its English equivalent. Then he used only the first letter of the English equivalent in spelling an English word.
24. Long unrecognized because of the continued value of their language as a security classified code, the Navajo code talkers of World War II were honored for their contributions to defense on Sept. 17, 1992, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
25. Thirty-five code talkers, all veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps, attended the dedication of the Navajo code talker exhibit. The exhibit includes a display of photographs, equipment and the original code, along with an explanation of how the code

English Navajo Translation
Fighter Plane. Da-he-tih-hi. Hummingbird
Dive Bomber. Gini. Chicken Hawk
Observation Plane. Ne-ahs-jah. Owl
Bomber Plane. Jay-sho. Buzzard
Aircraft Carrier. Tsidi-Ne-Ye-Hi. Bird Carrier
Bombs. A-ye-shi. Eggs
Amphibious Vehicle. Chal. Frog
Battleship. Lo-tso. Whale
Destroyer. Ca-lo. Shark
Submarine. Besh-lo. Iron Fish

Alphabets (English) Code Language (English) Code Language (Navajo)

A Ant Wol-la-chee

B Bear Shush C Cat Moasi D Deer Be E Elk Dzeh F Fox Ma-e G Goat Klizzie H Horse Lin I Ice Tkin J Jaw. Ah-ya-tsinne K Kid Klizzie-yazzi L Lamb Dibeh-yazzi M Mouse Na-as-tso-si N Nut Nesh-chee O Owl Ne-ash-jah P Pig Bi-sodih Q Quiver Ca-yeilth R Rabbit Gah S Sheep Dibeh T Turkey Than-zie U Uncle Shi-da V Victor a-keh-di-glini W Weasel Gloe-ih X Cross Al-an-as-dzoh Y Yucca Tsah-as-zih Z Zinc Besh-do-gliz

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