By Steven Harris

Today, August 14th, is National Navajo Code Talkers Day! As World War II raged across the Pacific Front, a strong need arose for the improvement of coded military messages that would carry out secret information from battle lines to air bases and other locations. The Japanese were proficient at code-breaking, because many knew English and been educated in the United States. Native Americans who spoke the Navajo language helped to solve this problem. The Navajo “code talkers” as they became known, used English code words that they would then translate into Navajo language to send messages. While the Japanese military could eavesdrop on these coded messages, they could not understand their meanings since the Navajo language was not well known.

Major General Clayton Barney Vogel requested that the Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. authorize the recruiting of 200 Navajos to be Marine communication specialists. Headquarters initially approved the authorization of 30, and 29 men ultimately became part of the original Code Talkers. These men had all of the qualifications that were required to be a Marine but, were also fluent in both English and Navajo.

The recruits, who became the 382 Platoon, U.S. Marine Corps, were referred to as “The Navajo School” while at boot camp. There, they developed the code that would be used in battle – a two part code that would consist of a 26-letter alphabet that corresponded with Navajo words, and a vocabulary with 211 English words that had Navajo synonyms (which later expanded to 411 words).

In August 1942, most of the Navajo Code Talkers went to Guadalcanal, the first place where the code was used in battle. More Code Talkers were requested, and by August 1943 there were almost 200. In all, 421 Code Talkers were trained during the war. The Navajo Code Talkers served in some of the fiercest battles of the Pacific. They served in all six Marine divisions in the Pacific, as well as with the Marine Raiders, and with the Marine parachute units. They were integral in many battles in the Pacific, and besides Guadalcanal, participated in assaults at locations such as the Solomon Islands, the Mariana Islands, and Iwo Jima. The Japanese were unable to decipher the telephone and radio messages that the Code Talkers conveyed.

The role of the Navajo Code Talkers was largely unknown for many years, until the program was declassified in 1968. In 1928, House Joint Resolution 444 – A joint resolution to authorize and request the President to designate August 14, 1982, as “National Navajo Code Talkers Day” was passed by Congress which requested President Ronald Reagan to designate National Navajo Code Talkers Day on August 14. Reagan then issued Proclamation 4954 which stated, in part:

“I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate August 14, 1982, as National Navaho Code Talkers Day, a day dedicated to all members of the Navaho Nation and to all Native Americans who gave of their special talents and their lives so that others might live. I ask the American people to join me in this tribute, and I call upon Federal, State and local officials to commemorate this day with appropriate activities.”

In 2000, the Honoring the Navajo Code Talkers Act was signed into law. It authorized the President to present the Congressional Gold Medal to the original Code Talkers.

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