| By Julie Mellors |
Gale In Context: Middle School has launched a new portal on the Navajo Code Talkers to help commemorate Native American Heritage Month. The Navajo Code Talkers were a group of soldiers who used their traditional language to develop an unbreakable code during World War II. They played an important role in winning the war in the Pacific.
A code talker was often employed by the military during times of war to use a language that wasn’t widely known to communicate secretly. The Navajo language was effective because it was relatively unknown outside of the Navajo community.
The idea behind the Navajo Code Talkers was developed by Philip Johnston, an American civil engineer and a member of the Corps of Engineers who was raised on a Navajo reservation and spoke fluent Navajo. He suggested to the military that the language could be used to send messages in code.
Johnston helped recruit the original code talkers, who were made up of 29 Navajo men. That number grew to almost 400 by 1945. In battle, code talkers would send messages to each other over radio. They used word association to assign a Navajo word to key battlefield orders and tactics used by the military. They couldn’t risk having their code fall into enemy hands, so they had to memorize the whole code.
It was dangerous work because the Japanese would deliberately target officers and radiomen, and code talkers had to keep moving as they relayed their messages, to keep out of enemy lines.
The code talkers took part in every Marine operation in the Pacific, giving the United States a huge advantage throughout the war. During the invasion of Iwo Jima, more than 800 messages were sent by six Navajo Code Talkers—all of which were transmitted successfully. The code talkers were so successful throughout World War II that the Japanese were never able to break their code.
For years, the public knew nothing about the work of the Navajo Code Talkers. Finally, in 1969 they were publicly recognized with a medal commemorating their service. Many other awards and tributes followed, including the Congressional Gold Medal in 2001. There is also a Navajo Code Talker exhibit honoring them at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
You can visit Gale In Context: Middle School for more information on the Navajo Code Talkers.
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