It was WWII, and the United States needed a code. The code they needed was like a language: they would need to assign words that meant something else to another word, and then use that code to send letters to fellow soldiers. This way, if the Japanese or Germans ever got hold of their letters or transmissions, they wouldn’t know what they were saying. Because of that reason, the code needed to be difficult and strong. Germany already had a code, Enigma, but it had been cracked in 1941 by Alan Turing. The U.S. planned to have something better, and what’s better than help from the Navajo Indians?
The Navajo Indians spoke a complex language—the Apachean language, which was classified in the Athabaskan language family. Today, Navajo tribes live mainly in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, covering over 27,000 miles. Diné Bikéyah, also known as Navajoland, is larger than 10 of the 50 states in the U.S.
Twenty-nine Navajo recruits joined the Marines. They would soon be known as the very first code talkers who could code, transmit and translate a message in at least two and a half minutes, faster than any other.
Here’s the confusing thing: the Marines would apply a Navajo word and use it in code as a military term. For example, if you were a code talker, you could put down the Navajo word for mouse in a message, and when the U.S. got it, they would know mouse meant battleship. That was only part of the difficult code.
For Type One code, the original 29 Navajos had to assign a Navajo word to each letter of the English alphabet. They knew every word would have to be memorized, so they used common words, like animals.
In all, there were 400 Navajo code talkers. In the battle of Iwo Jima, which lasted 36 days, 800 coded messages were sent! Because of the code talkers, the U.S. won the war, and the code was never cracked.
There was one downside: the Navajos couldn’t tell anyone about their work. Even their fellow Marines were clueless. When they got home, they faced racism from many people who didn’t know about the work they did. The Navajos also had to deal with the trauma of WWII, and they had no one to help them.
In 2001, the United States Congress honored and told everyone about the code talkers, presenting them with gold and silver Congressional medals.
The code talkers made huge contributions to this country. They made up an extreme code that even the Japanese couldn’t break, and they were known for being master code breakers. The code talkers also faced racial injustice back home, and they weren’t allowed to tell anyone of their service. They were brown, not white, and some people figured that they could never save our country. The code talkers were Native Americans from the west and they did help save our country. So even though we recently found out about them, their story will be known throughout history, no doubt about that.
Editor’s Note: The author is a sixth-grade student at Granby Memorial Middle School.