Friday, September 7, 2012

Permission Granted

The matter was turned over to A.H. Turnage, director of the Division of Plans and Policies. There were several issues that he had concerns about: the possibility of mistakes during translations, possible problems in teaching the Indians to use technical equipment, and the fear that using Indian dialect under combat conditions might slow communications. He was advised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that the Navajo language would indeed be an ideal medium of communication since the messages would be unintelligible to anyone other than the Navajos themselves. They would also be exceptionally fast since the individuals could translate as they received, thus doing away with coding or transcoding. After studying the reports he granted permission for the Navajo project, although the pilot program was authorized for thirty Navajos of the 200 requested.

Although many applied during the recruitment only 29 Navajo men made it into the pilot program. Fluency in both Navajo and English was the main requirement, but the men also had the rigors of boot camp facing them.It was not much of a problem for them,however, after overcoming a few cultural differences. The commanding officer reported to the Commandant that they had done exceptionally well at the Depot, having at an early date developed a very high esprit de corps. The group of 29 men, he said, was still intact. None had dropped back due to sickness,disciplinary action or lack of ability to keep up with the others, which was highly unusual, the rate of attrition being from five to ten percent. He reported that their progress had been highly satisfactory.

After graduation from boot camp the men were sent to CampElliott for further training. They received their "special assignment" there. The Marine Corps had plans, the officer told them, to develop a combat code based on the Navajo language for use in battle situations.Creating and using this code was their special assignment. As he wrote the instructions on the chalkboard, the Navajos watched in amazement. Construct an alphabet based on the Navajo language, choose Navajo words to substitute for military terms, keep the terms short for rapid transmission, and memorize all terms. That was all. Just do it. And that is what they did, working as a team and starting with the asphabet.

Next: Developing the Code

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