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Who would have known that the language of Native Americans, created hundreds of years before the founding of our nation, would prove to be one of America s greatest secret weapons? The Japanese cracked every code that the Army and Navy came up with, but not the Navajo code. Navajo is a spoken language handed down orally from generation to generation. The Code Talkers created a system of native words to represent characters of the English alphabet so that they could spell out English words that had no Navajo equivalent. The code talkers also assigned their own expressions such as iron-fish for submarine, to over four hundred important military terms. Each code talker memorized these special words for there were no written materials that could be captured by the enemy.
The use of the code talk originated in World War I. It was common for the men and women of the armed forces to find themselves in heavy predicament as their battalion would be surrounded by German forces. The relay of a simple message would be impossible due to the fact that the Germans would have already tapped the field lines and were able to intercept messages and know every move that the Americans were going to make. The Choctaw Code Talkers proved to be an outstanding use of communication when it first appeared during the closing days of World War I. With the use of the code talkers, messages were capable of being relayed to the battalion commander without fear of interpretation by the Germans. However, the use of this newly found secure form of communication would remain a secret with the signing of the Armistice and the Choctaw men returning to their reservations.
Twenty five years later, the Americans found themselves embroiled in another World War. The war would hold very few secrets. Communication, once again, became a huge problem during the war. American intelligence officials had broken Japanese and German communication codes, but, the Japanese were also able of breaking all the codes that the Americans could come up with.
Japanese code breakers had been educated in the United States and were savvy to even local slang that the American forces were trying to use to disguise their intentions. Perhaps the Choctaw Code Talkers could prove to assist the Americans once again. Seventeen Comanches were assigned to the Comanche Signal Corps of the United States Army and, like the Choctaws before them, passed messages among themselves that could not be understood by the Germans. Little did the Germans listening-in know that the words post-tai-vo meant crazy white man, which was used to identify none other than Adolph Hitler. The most ambitious effort to employ native languages as secret codes was championed by Philip Johnston.
Johnston was a World War I veteran who had come by covered wagon to settle on Navajo land in northern Arizona with his missionary family. By age 9, he had gained such proficiency in Navajo language that he acted as interpreter between two Navajo leaders and President Theodore Roosevelt when they met in 1901. Johnston had heard of the Choctaw Code Talkers, and he was convinced that the Navajo language would also be nearly impossible for an enemy to understand. After all, he was one of approximately thirty non-natives who understood the complex and subtle Navajo expressions. Now, all he needed to do was convince the skeptical military that he had the answer to their security problems. Johnston did end up convincing Lieutenant Colonel James E.
Jones, a Marine Corps Signal Officer, to let him put on a demonstration at Camp Elliott (which now happens to be Tierrasanta) in February of 1942. Navajo volunteers translated typical military messages from English to Navajo, and sent the messages to another room where other Navajos translated them back to English within twenty seconds. Using coding machines to convey the same messages took thirty minutes. The Marines agreed to enlist Johnston and thirty other Navajos to try their system in actual combat. The code had to be foolproof as Allied forces in the Pacific would be staking their lives on the security of the orders sent via the code talkers. In May 1942, the first twenty nine Navajo recruits attended boot camp.
Then at Camp Pendleton, this first group of Navajo code talkers developed a dictionary and numerous words for military terms. The dictionary and all code words had to be memorized during training. 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. The code talkers also acted as messengers and performed general Marine duties. Carl Gorman was one of the Navajos sent to Guadalcanal in the fall of 1942.
As a young boy attending school at the Rehoboth Mission in Change, Arizona, he had been locked in chains in the school basement for refusing to speak English instead of Navajo. With Japanese forces sweeping over Guadalcanal and listening to every Marine radio frequency, Gorman and his friends William Yazzie, Jack Nez and Oscar Ilthma called in artillery fire and provided status reports in what again sounded like gibberish to the enemy. The Japanese, being skilled code breakers, remained baffled by the Navajo language. The Japanese chief of intelligence, Lieutenant General Size Arise said that while they were able to decided the codes used by the U. S. Army and the Army Air Corps, they were never able to crack the code used by the Marines.
Joe Kieyoomia, a Navajo soldier who was not trained as a Code Talker, was captured and survived the Bataan Death March, only to be tortured into trying to decode intercepted Marine communications. Left standing naked in the snow, feet frozen to the parade ground, he couldnt confess to what he didnt understand. The secret code made no sense, even to another Navajo. It was said by high military officers that the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima without the Navajo Code Talkers, and World War II might have had a different outcome without their contribution. The 400 Navajos who were recruited and served as Code Talkers came home from the war and went through special native ceremonies called the Enemy Way to exorcise them of the painful memories of hand to hand combat and ghosts of the dead. The Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the U.
S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, including Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. 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. Praised for their skill, speed and accuracy throughout the war, Major Howard Connor, 5 th 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 eight hundred messages, all without error.
Below are some of the words in the Navajo Code Talkers Dictionary. Navajo Code Talkers Dictionary REVISED AS OF 15 JUNE 1945 (DECLASSIFIED UNDER DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE DIRECTIVE 5200. 9) ALPHABET NAVAJO WORD LITERAL TRANSLATION A WOL-LA-CHEE ANT A BE-LA-SANA APPLE A TSE-NILL AXE B NA-HASH-CHID BADGER B SHUSH BEAR B TOISH-JEH BARREL C MOASI CAT C TLA-GIN COAL C BA-GOSHI COW D BE DEER D CHINDI DEVIL D LHA-CHA-EH DOG E AH-JAH EAR E DZEH ELK E AH-NAH EYE F CHUO FIR F TSA-E-DONIN-EE FLY F MA-E FOX G AH-TAD GIRL G KLIZZIE GOAT G JEHA GUM H TSE-GAH HAIR H CHA HAT H LIN HORSE I TKIN ICE I YEH-HES ITCH I A-CHI INTESTINE J TKELE-CHO-G JACKASS J AH-YA-TSINNE JAW J YIL-DOI JERK K JAD-HO-LONI KETTLE K BA-AH-NE-DI-TININ KEY K KLIZZIE-YAZZIE KID L DIBEH-YAZZIE LAMB L AH-JAD LEG L NASH-DOIE-TSO LION M TSIN-TLITI MATCH M BE-TAS-TNI MIRROR M NA-AS-TSO-SI MOUSE N TSAH NEEDLE N A-CHIN NOSE O A-KHA OIL O TLO-CHIN ONION O NE-AHS-JAH OWL P CLA-GI-AIH PANT P BI-SO-DIH PIG THE MARINE HYMN Jimmy King, a Navajo instructor, translated the Marine Hymn into Navajo: We have conquered our enemies Nin home bi-key a-na-ih-la All over the world Ta-al-tso-go na-he-seel-kai On land and on sea Nih-bi-kah-gi do tah kah-gi Everywhere we fight Ta-al-tso-go en-da-de-pah True and loyal to our duty Tsi-di-da-an-ne ne-tay-yah We are know by that Ay be name holden United States Marines Washindon be Akalh Bi-kong-la To be one is a great thing. Ji-long ba-hozo Our flag waves Ni-he da-na-ah-taj cha From dawn to setting sun. Yel know-go e-e-ah We have fought every place Day-ne tal-al-tso go end-she-jah where we could take a gun Tal-tso-go enter-se-pah From northern lands Ha-kaz done-ih be-hay-jah To southern tropic scenes, Ado ta aok hek-ash-shen We are known to be tireless Do ni-din-da-hi ol-yeh The United States Marines Washindon be Akalh-bi Khos THE LAST VERSE IS SUNG LIKE A PRAYER May we live in peace hereafter Hozo-go nay-yalta to We have conquered all our foes, A-na-oh bi-keh de-din No force in the world we cannot Ni-hi-keh di-doing ta-even conquer, We know of no fear Yeh-wol-ye hi-he a-din If the Army and the Navy Sila-go-to do can-lakai Ever look on Heavens scenes, Ya-and-go das dez e e United States Marines will be Washindon be Akalh-bi Kong la there Living in peace. Hozo-g-kay-ha-the
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