Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Unbreakable Code: The War Begins

President Roosevelt declared war on Japan the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Volunteers flocked to military recruitment offices to enlist. Since there were none of these on the reservation, dozens of Navajo men gathered outside the superintendent's office, armed with hunting rifles and ready to fight the enemy. However, they were sent home since no draft call had been sent out and no enlistment procedures were in place on the reservation as yet.

On December 7, 1941, Keith Little was at boarding school in Ganado, Arizona. He and some of his fellow students had been hunting with .22 rifles and had a rabbit simmering over a fire in the woods beyond the school, being thoroughly sick of what they referred to as "cafeteria gruel." While they waited for it to finish cooking one of the boys went back to the dorm for something. When the boy returned, Little recalls this conversation.

"Hey, Pearl Harbor was bombed!"
"Where's Pearl Harbor?"
"In Hawaii."
"Who did it?"
"Why'd they do it?"
"They hate Americans. They want to kill all Americans."
"Us too?"
"Yeah, us too."

Little and his friends promised each other they would use their .22 rifles to go after the Japanese instead of rabbits. I found this in an article by Bruce Watson, "Navajo Code Talkers: A Few Good Men." It can be found in the Smithsonian, August 1993.

Next: The Navajo Language

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