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