Today is Navajo Code Talkers Day, a holiday that honors the distinguished record of soldiers who transmitted military messages in the Navajo language during World War II. The Axis powers were unable to break the code, which helped safeguard U.S. military communications and may have hastened the end of the war.
In May of 1942, 29 Navajo recruits graduated boot camp at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, CA, and subsequently developed a dictionary that translated U.S. military terminology. They kept no written records, memorizing each word during their training.
Navajos were able to encrypt, transmit, receive and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds. By contrast, devices of the era such as the German Enigma machine required an average of 30 minutes to perform the same task.
Code talkers participated in every operation conducted by the U.S. Marines in the Pacific theater. In February of 1945, during the first two days of the battle of Iwo Jima, six of them worked around the clock to send and receive more than 800 messages in Navajo.
Their service went unrecognized for decades due to the language’s continued use by the military. After it was declassified in 1968, Major Howard Connor, signal officer of the 5th U.S. Marine Division during World War II, stated, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”
President Ronald Reagan declared August 14, 1982, National Navaho Code Talkers Day. (He preferred Americanized spelling.) The last of the original 29 Navajo code talkers, Chester Nez, died on June 11, 2014, at the age of 93. Due to the program’s secrecy, the total number can only be estimated, at 400.
Let’s remember them now and every day. Happy Navajo Code Talker Day!