Navajo, the Code Talkers
The Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleiu, and Iwo Jima from 1942 to 1945. They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine parachute units and Marine Raider battalions, transmitting important messages by radio and telephone in their native language—a code that the Japanese never broke during the war.
Philip Johnston, a former missionary’s son who once lived on the Navajo Reservation was responsible for recruiting the Navajos. Knowing the complex phases and intricate tonal qualities of the native language. His plan was to devise a code utilizing the complex unwritten language of the Navajo; he convinced the Marines it would baffle the best of the cryptographers. Johnston knew that the Native American languages-notably Choctaw-had been used in World War I to encode messages. He said the language could be used as the basis for a code to transmit battle plans and vital messages. The idea to use the Navajo language to secure communities also came from Johnston; back on the Navajo reservation where Johnston once lived on was World War I veteran who knew of the military’s search for a code that would withstand all of the best attempts to decipher it.
With the assistants of the Navajo, the occupation of creating code terms was underway. Navajo words were selected to describe complex military equipment and operations. Where possible, words were selected that had a logical association with the desired military terms. Thurs Navajo words like frog became amphibious for operations, and an American became “nihima”.
Philip Johnston believed the Navajo’s unwritten language of complexity had solved the military’s requirement for an undecipherable code. Its syntax and tonal qualities, not mention dialects makes it incomprehensible to most without extensive training and exposure of the native language. It has neither written alphabet nor symbols, and is spoken only...
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