Navajo Code Talkers carry a tradition of excellence

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill.--In 2000, the United States Congress honored a distinctive group of World War II veterans.  These 29 men were members of the Navajo Tribe. Using the tribal language of their people, these men developed an unbreakable code that allowed them to relay critical information, saving the lives of their comrades and helping to bring about victory and the end of WWII. 

During WWI, Choctaw and other Native American Indians used their language to transmit messages during battle by telephone.  The success of this operation inspired the Marine Corps to recruit 29 Navajo(s) to create a code using their own language.  After the initial code was developed, the Marine Corp instituted a Code Talking school to train new recruits.  More than 400 Navajo Code talkers were recruited.  The training was rigorous, consisting of basic military training, communications and memorization. Not only did these men learn this special code, they also learned how to operate, set up and maintain both radio and wire equipment.

The Navajo Code consisted of two categories.  Some messages would simply be translated into their tribal language and transmitted over the radio.  These messages were categorized as Type Two Codes.  The Navajo(s) developed Type One Codes by assigning a Navajo word for each letter in the English alphabet and spelling out the desired word.  For example the Navajo word for “ant” would be translated as the letter “a”, the Navajo word for “bear “would be translated as the letter “b”, and so on.  The Code Talkers also assigned certain Navajo words to military terms.  For example, the Navajo word “àsta” translates to “eagle” in English.  This word designates a “transport plane”. 

Some may think that memorizing these terms and complex codes must have been extremely difficult.  Memorizing complex sequences of dialogue came naturally to the Navajo Code Talkers.  Navajo(s) have no formal written language; cultural traditions were passed verbally from generation to generation through stories and songs. Chester Nez, one of the original Code Talkers said, “In developing our code we were careful to use every day Navajo words, so that we could memorize and retain the words easily.”  Due to the unique sentence structure of the Navajo language, and its unwritten form, the code these men devised proved to be unbreakable.          

Due to the classified status of the Code, the Code Talkers were not recognized until 1968, after the program was declassified.  Prior to this date the men were instructed not to speak of the program to anyone, even family members.  Today the Navajo Code Talkers have received formal recognition of their contributions to this country, including gold and silver Congressional Medals presented by President George W. Bush.  The back of the medals are imprinted with a Navajo statement which translates to: “With the Navajo language they defeated the enemy”. 

With our honoring of Native American Heritage month comes several base events to participate in.  Last week at Fall Festival a local tribal artist Kathy Dickerson and Cahokia Mounds representative William Iseminger shared their talents and displays with us.  Scott’s very own Staff Sgt. Marceline Williams performed a traditional Native American dance.  Children were able to engage in crafts making their own canoe and tipi.  This week the committee had a library book reading in which kids were able to enjoy Native American stories and folklore.