Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Unbreakable Code: After the War

The Code Talkers had not been nationally recognized until 1969, when the 4th Marine Division Association held its reunion in Chicago. At that time a group of Code Talkers was invited to the reunion and presented with a medallion specially minted in commemoration of their services. In 1971 President Nixon presented them with a certificate of appreciation on behalf of the nation. He thanked them for their patriotism, resourcefulness, and courage. August 14, 1982 was declared National Code Talkers Day by President Reagan, who issued a proclamation of tribute to all members of the Navajo Nation who gave their special talents and their lives so that others might live.

Dan Rather interviewed the oldest Code Talker, Carl Gorman, at his home in 1997, and after the interview said the American way of life might not have survived if it were not for their service. Ninety-year-old Gorman's closing statement reflected the true heart of a Marine when he said, "Old Marines never die. They just go to hell and regroup."

The Navajos today:
Edward S. Curtis was a photographer whose pictures of Native Americans are in museums and private collections across the country. One of the most famous of these, "The  Vanishing Race," was taken in 1904 and is supposed to show the Indians passing into the darkness of an unknown future, stripped of their tribal strength and culture.

The Navajos did not vanish into the darkness, however. Today they are the largest Native American tribe in the United States with a population of over 200,000, and their rich culture is alive and well. They lived through the Spaniards, the Mexicans, the Utes, white settlers, slave traders, the U.S. Army, Kit Carson, GeneralCarleton, the Long Walk, Bosque Redondo, livestock reduction, and boarding school. Many native nations have disappeared, swallowed up into the Anglo world. The Dineh, however, remain distinctly themselves. They have survived.

From the Night Chant

In Beauty (happily) I walk.
With Beauty before me I walk.
With Beauty behind me I walk.
With Beauty above me I walk.
With Beauty all around me I walk.
It is finished in Beauty.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Unbreakable Code: A Valuable Weapon

Because the Navajos, with their straight black hair, dark eyes, small stature, and somewhat Asian features, resembled the Japanese, each had a bodyguard assigned to him. After one Code Talker was nearly shot by a U.S. Marine, these bodyguards went everywhere the Navajos went. The Code Talkers were a valuable weapon and their safety was first and foremost, one of the bodyguards reported being told by his superiors. However, the Code as well as the Talker was to be protected. If a Code Talker had the misfortune to be captured by the Japanese his bodyguard was under orders to shoot him to protect the Code. Fortunately, this was not necessary since none were captured.

One night in August 1945 the news came over the division radio net that the emperor of Japan had asked for peace terms. The Navajos, naturally, were the first to learn this good news. The elated Navajos decided a celebration was in order. Since tom-toms were not items of issue, they set off au natural for the bandsmen's tents. They grabbed the drums and Indian-danced their way toward the officer's tents with the bandsmen, also au natural, in hot pursuit trying to retrieve their drums. The war ended in the Pacific on September 2, 1945, with the formal surrender of Japan. The men from a nation within a nation were an integral part of that victory.

The Navajo Code did not end with the war's end. The Code remained classified since no one knew if it would be needed again, and it remained so until 1969 when it was finally declassified by the United States government. The Navajos had been told to remain silent about their role in the war and the existence of the code. They kept the secret until it was no longer a secret.

Next: After the War

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Unbreakable Code: The Battle for the Pacific

After the shock of Pearl Harbor and the capitulation of Hong Kong, the Phillipines, Singapore, and Corregidor, the United States forces recovered enough to start the advance, island by island, toward Japan. As each island was secured it was used for storing supplies and equipment and, sometimes, an airstrip was built for bombers and fighter planes. Soon the war in the South Pacific became an exercise in island hopping. Communication between them was vital. Headquarters needed to know exactly what opposition they were meeting and when reinforcements would be needed.

The dark-skinned, black haired Navajos soon became a familiar sight at Marine command posts throughout the Pacific combat zone as they huddled over radio sets sending and translating messages into a conglomeration of the Navajo language, American slang, and military terminology. From the twenty-nine Code Talkers at the beginning of the war the number had increased to 420 by the end. The Japanese never broke the code as the Navajos relayed operational orders with a secrecy that enabled the United States to advance from the Solomons to Okinawa.

Control of Iwo Jima was vital to both the United States and Japan. The Japanese leadership knew that the loss of Iwo Jima would be followed by Okinawa's fall and the invasion of the mainland. Their orders were to defend the island at all costs. The first Code Talkers came ashore in the second wave, and six Navajo nets worked around the clock for 48 hours. Their commander reported that in that period alone they sent and received 800 messages without an error. Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific. Six-thousand eight-hundred Americans lost their lives during the 36-day battle. Three of these were Code Talkers. One officer reported the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima were it not for the Code Talkers.

Next: A Valuable Weapon