American Code-Talkers Help Defeat the Axis
Navajo Code TalkersThe 2002 Hollywood film "Windtalkers" publicized the efforts of the Navajo code talkers. The term most often refers to bilingual Navajo speakers specially recruited during World War II by the Marines to serve in their standard communications units in the Pacific Theater. But there is a lot of history behind this area of communication.
"Code talkers" was a term used to describe people who transmit secret messages using a coded language. Code talkers transmitted these messages over ordinary military telephone or radio communications nets using formal or informally developed codes built upon their native languages. This enabled them to bypass fancy encryption machines such as the German "Enigma" machine. Students of the war know that the deciphering of German Enigma machine messages was a basic reason why the Allies won World War II.
Code Talkers were necessary for several reasons. The American military by 1942 had experienced little success with encoding messages. Military experts knew that Japanese cryptographers could crack any standard code. The problem was, the military never would know when that happened, so sending coded messages that were being deciphered by the enemy could backfire badly at the very worst time. Simply speaking normally "in the clear" was impossible because the Japanese were proficient at intercepting short-distance communications, on walkie-talkies for example, and then having well-trained English-speaking soldiers either sabotage the message or send out false commands to set up an ambush. Any other form of communication, such as messengers or elaborate coding machines, was too slow. A secure way to communicate over standard radios and telephones had to be found before the Generals could commit troops to combat.
Philip Johnston, a World War I veteran and civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles, proposed the use of Navajo to the United States Marine Corps at the beginning of the war. He had been raised on the Navajo reservation as the son of a missionary to the Navajos, and was one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently.
Early in 1942, Johnston met with Major General Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding general of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet. Johnston staged tests under simulated combat conditions which demonstrated that Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds, versus the 30 minutes required by machines at that time. This meant that orders could be passed on in "real time," a tremendous advantage under fluid battle conditions.
Vogel passed on his recommendation that the Marines recruit 200 Navajos. The first 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp in May 1942.
|Navajo Code Talker Joe Morris Sr|
The rest is history. The Navajo code talkers were commended for their skill, speed and accuracy throughout the war. At the Battle of Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. These six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error. "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima," Connor said. Being able to send in messages "in the clear" without elaborate encryption was a huge time-saver in those days.
The Navajo Code Talkers created an unbreakable code from the ancient language of their people and changed the course of modern history. They were young Navajo men who transmitted secret communications on the battlefields of World War II. At a time when America's best cryptographers were falling short, these modest sheepherders and farmers were able to fashion the most ingenious and successful code in military history.
The 29 original Navajo Code Talkers.
Above are Navajo Code Talkers in Maui, 1945.
|Undated photo of Chester Nez|
Chester Nez was one of the 29 original WWII Code Talkers who developed a code based on the Navajo language - the only code the Japanese never cracked. He finally publicized his autobiography at the age of 90. Mr. Nez was the last of 29 Navajo who were enlisted as code talkers in the Marines during World War II. He passed away on June 4, 2014 at the age of 93.
Many people who had relatives that served in the war know that former soldiers of that generation did not talk much about their experiences. When they decided to open up, which was rare, it was a treat. John Sells (1915 - 2007) was one such Navajo Code Talker. Nearly 60 years passed between the time John Sells, of Shiprock, served as a Navajo Code Talker and the day he told his family he was one of the select group. Imagine hearing that for the first time.
Navajo code talkers in the American-held Solomon Islands.
|Navajo Code Talkers|
The Navajo are justly proud of their heroic code-talking fighters.
Other Code TalkersWhile they performed great service during the war, the Navajo were not the only code talkers during World War II. Comanche, for instance, was used in the European theater to great effect.
|Comanche Code Talkers|
While the Navajo were used in the Pacific Theater of Operations, other code talkers were used in the European Theater of Operations. Fourteen Comanche code talkers took part in the Invasion of Normandy (D-Day, June 6, 1944), and continued to serve in the 4th Infantry Division as it wheeled across France and Germany during further European operations.
Comanches of the 4th Signal Company compiled a vocabulary of over 100 code terms using words or phrases in their own language. Using a substitution method similar to the Navajo, the Comanche code word for tank was "turtle", bomber was "pregnant airplane", machine gun was "sewing machine" and Adolf Hitler became "crazy white man." It all made sense if you knew the language - but the Germans didn't know the language.
The Comanche Code Talkers were an elite group of young men who were fluent in the Comanche language and used that knowledge, along with the training they were given by the Army, to send critical messages that confused the enemy during World War II. Seventeen young men were trained in communications, but only fourteen were deployed to the European theater. Serving overseas were Roderick “Dick” Red Elk, Simmons Parker, Larry Saupitty, Melvin Permansu, Willie Yackeschi, Charles Chibitty, Willington Mihecoby, Morris Sunrise, Perry Noyebad, Haddon Codynah, Robert Holder, Clifford Otitivo, Forrest Kassanavoid and Elgin Red Elk. They were recruited from Cache, Cement, Cyril, Fletcher, Indiahoma, Lawton and Walters. Albert Nahquaddy, Anthony Tabbytite and Ralph Wahnee, who trained for the same role, did not serve overseas.
Two Comanche code-talkers were assigned to each regiment, the rest to 4th Infantry Division headquarters. Shortly after landing on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944, the Comanches began transmitting messages. Some were wounded but none were killed.
|Choctaw Code Talkers|
In the picture above, the Choctaw Codetalkers: Native Americans Solomon Lewis, Mitchell Bobb, Ben Carterby, Robert Taylor, Jeff Nelson, Pete Maytubby, James Edwards, Calvin Wilson, Solomon Lewis.
During World War I, company commander Captain Lawrence of the U. S. Army overheard Solomon Louis and Mitchell Bobb conversing in the Choctaw language. He found eight Choctaw men in the battalion. Eventually, fourteen Choctaw men in the Army's 36th Infantry Division trained to use their language in code. They helped the American Expeditionary Force win several key battles in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France, during the final big German push of the war. Within 24 hours after the Choctaw language was pressed into service, the tide of the battle had turned. In less than 72 hours the Germans were retreating and the Allies were in full attack.
Adolf Hitler, a veteran of World War I, knew about the successful use of Choctaw code talkers during that conflict. Before the Second World War, he sent a team of some thirty anthropologists to learn Native American languages. However, it was too big a task, and his experts were unable to learn the many languages and dialects that existed. The effort did pay off, though: because of the anthropologists' attempts to learn the languages, the U.S. Army did not implement a large-scale code talker program in the European Theater. But other people remembered, too, and the Americans revived the idea during World War II.
Congressional Gold Medal CeremonyOn November 20, 2013, Congress held a special ceremony to honor the Native American code talkers.
For decades, the wartime service of 96-year-old Edmond Harjo and other American Indian "code talkers" was something that wasn't officially acknowledged or publicly recognized. Yes, it was known to those who cared to investigate a bit ever since the war - it wasn't a state secret or anything - but it was not widely disseminated. Several code talkers received Congressional Medals of Honor and other awards, but the effort as a whole was not properly recognized.
But on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, Harjo sat in the Capitol's Emancipation Hall enjoying an enthusiastic standing ovation from hundreds of people. House Speaker John Boehner gave the introduction.
Twenty-five Native American tribes received Congressional Gold Medals for the service of their citizens during World War II. Most of the original code talkers are gone, so members of their tribes received the medals on their and their tribe's behalf.
|Code Talker Edmond Harjo of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma|
|Elleia Chapella, widow of a code talker of the Hopi tribe of Polacca, Arizona. Her husband, Frank, whose picture is on her chest, served in Europe. He passed away in 1984 at age 75|
|Members of the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma|
|Kenneth Ryan of the Fort Beck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Montana, with his tribe's gold medal|
|Members of the Hopi Tribe of Polacca, Arizona and the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin|
|Wallace Coffey, Chief of the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma, with his tribe's gold medal|