Navajo Code Talkers Day

Navajo Code Talkers Day
   Reading time 5

Navajo Code Talkers Day

Secure communications are a must in any battle and WWII was not an exception. The Marine Corps needed a quick and accurate way to verbally communicate. Due to cipher codes needing to be changed often due to the risk of them becoming compromised. Philip Johnston, a civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles, proposed the use of the Navajo language to the United States Marine Corps at the beginning of World War II. Johnston, a World War I veteran, was raised on the Navajo reservation as the son of missionaries to the Navajo. He was among the few non-Navajo who spoke the language fluently.

Navajo Code Talkers Infograph

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Johnston had read of the U.S. Army using Comanches in their Louisiana field maneuvers to transmit military communications and began to think that the Navajo language could also be applied in this manner. He presented this idea to the United States Marine Corps, and he was directed to present his proposal.

Johnston recruited four Navajos who were working in the Los Angeles shipyards and arranged to demonstrate the utility of using the Navajo language to transmit military communications. The officer in charge of this demonstration was Communications Officer, Amphibious Force, Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Major James E. Jones, USMC at Camp Elliot, San Diego, and Commanding Officer; Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet General Clayton Barney Vogel heard of the event and attended the demonstration. Initially, Philip thought the Navajo language could be used unmodified to transmit military communications, using conversational Navajo. Just before the actual demonstration started, the Navajos received samples of common military expressions they were to convey to each other. They informed the gathered personnel that in order to send the military messages they would have to use word and letter substitution methods to convey the messages, due to the lack of direct equivalents in Navajo of many technical English terms. After some deliberation to agree upon which Navajo words would represent English equivalents, the Navajos were divided into two groups and put into separate rooms, where field phones had been installed, at opposite ends of the same building.

General Vogel was so impressed with the Camp Elliot demonstration that he asked the Commandant of the Marine Corps to recruit 200 Navajos. However, Vogel was given the authorization to recruit only 30 Navajos, under a pilot program status to investigate the feasibility of this proposed program with actual Navajos. On the morning of May 4, 1942, 29 Navajo recruits boarded the bus at Ft. Defiance, Arizona, were transported to the induction center at Ft. Wingate, New Mexico, and, after lunch, were transported overnight to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego (MCRD, SD) for administrative in-processing, then to start their seven weeks of standard recruit training. Upon completion of recruit training, the first all-Navajo Platoon 382 graduated from MCRD, SD on June 27, 1942, where they were immediately ordered to report to Camp Elliot for about eight weeks of basic communications training and to develop a code based on the Navajo language. As for developing the code, the Navajos were guided by a cryptographic officer under the command of now Lieutenant Colonel Jones in the basics of employing letter and word substitution encryption methods in the formulation of the code. Shortly after the beginning of this project, three additional Navajo Marines were added to the program, and together the 32 Navajos worked to develop the code. Their stay in Camp Elliot ended in the latter half of August 1942.

Based upon the successful training of the pilot talker program on August 25, 1942, the authorization to fulfill the recruitment of 200 Navajos commenced, and Marine units “were asked to submit recommendations relative to the number of Navajos they could usefully employ” Many Navajo men enlisted shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and eagerly contributed to the war effort. (Source; Source 2)

2022 started with four remaining Navajo Code Talkers from the Marine Corps, Today, there are only three remaining. Peter MacDonald, John Kinsel Sr., and Thomas H. Begay. Samuel Sandoval passed away July 29th in Shiprock, New Mexico at the age of 98. Here is his story in his own words

John Kinsel – Navajo Code Talker – Living History

Peter MacDonald – Navajo Code Talker – Living History

An Unbreakable Code

On August 14, 2022, the Navajo Code Talkers Museum finally break ground on a permanent facility. The 400-acre site in Tse Bonito, New Mexico, will be used to honor the Navajo Code Talkers who used the Dine Language to help the United States and its allies achieve victory in World War II.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.