Friday, December 21, 2012

December 21: Navajo Code Talkers

On this date in History ... 2000:

Pres. Clinton signs a bill which gives the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the U.S., to the 29 original WWII Navajo Code Talkers. Silver Medals were given to approximately 300 other persons who qualified as a Code Talker. 
During WWII, the Japanese were breaking codes left and right. Philip Johnson, who grew up a missionary’s son on a Navajo reservation, was one of a few non-Navajos who spoke the language fluently, and suggested using the language as an unbreakable code. The language, at the time, was not written down and had a very complex grammar.
The military accepted the idea and during testing saw that a coded message that would take a machine 30 minutes to code could be sent in 20 seconds through a Code Talker. A code was developed using the language, but no code book was printed. The Talkers had to memorize every code. 
Other Navajos, who had not gone through the code-training program, could not understand the code. This was proven when Joe Kieyoomia, a Navajo Sargeant but not a Code Talker, was captured during the Bataan Death March. The Japanese had him try to interpret the messages but the message made no sense to Joe. (He had no way of knowing that the Navajo word for “potato” meant “hand grenade”.)

Code Talker medal 1968.
Photo source: www.
The program was considered classified until 1968 so the men that had a tremendous impact on the victory at Iwo Jimo received no recognition for over 20 years.  According to Maj. Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division Signal Officer, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” The six Code Talkers under his command sent over 800 messages in two days, all completely error free.

On November 15, 2008, Pres. Bush signed the Code Talkers Recognition Act which gave every Code Talker the same Congressional Gold Medal as was received by the original 29.

George Smith, the last Navajo Code Talker, died November 2012.


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