At one time or another in our lives, we’ve all had experiences with codes. It may have been one we got off the back of a cereal box as a child, or a diagnostic code from a Check Engine light in our vehicle. While some of these codes are easily broken, there was one spoken code in history so impossible to crack that it’s been credited with helping the U.S. win the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
The Navajo Code was used from 1942- 1945, helped win the war by transmitting top secret messages, and used in every major battle in the Pacific theater. It remains the only military code in modern history never broken by an enemy.
This was the top secret tongue created by the ‘Code Talkers’, young men from the remote Navajo Nation and thrust into service in the US Marine Corps. According to one of the last remaining code talkers, Peter MacDonald, Sr. of Tuba City, Arizona, the system they used to communicate was based on his native tongue, an unwritten language spoken only by a handful of people outside the borders of the reservation. Mr. MacDonald enlisted in the USMC at the age of 15 and served in the South Pacific as a Navajo Code Talker and in North China with the 6th Marine Division.
Peter MacDonald Sr. is one of nine remaining Navajo Code Talkers. He is the former Chairman of the Navajo Nation, and will be in Fayetteville, TN on Thursday, Dec.6 at 6 p.m. to give a presentation to the public, at the Ninth Grade Academy (NGA), 900 South Main Ave. His presentation is always enthusiastic, clear, and heartfelt. He combines factual and personal experiences regarding the inception of the code, the use of the code during the war, after the war, and current state of the Navajo Code Talkers.
MacDonald, president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association is raising funds to build a National Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Veteran Center to honor heroes of WWII in Window Rock, New Mexico. His speaking fee for this event will go toward that effort. Other proceeds from this event will go to the Lincoln County High School Falcon Football Club, LCHS Cheerleaders and LCHS Dance Team.
Tickets are $15 for adults or $10 for students, veterans, and active military. Tickets can be purchased at Carter’s Pharmacy on the Fayetteville square, at the Bank of Lincoln County (main branch), at Farrar Tire Centers (Fayetteville and Hazel Green), or can be mailed to you by calling 931-438-0340. The event is on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m.
This event is being sponsored by: The Falcon Football Club, Landers McLarty Toyota, Bank of Lincoln County, ADC, Shoney’s, Howard Bentley Buick GMC, Las Trojas, Lincoln County Officials, Higgins Funeral Home, and NDesigns. The Falcon Football Club would like to thank all of our sponsors for making this unique event possible for our community. Mr. MacDonald will also have a Q&A session, book signing, and allow time for pictures after his presentation at NGA. Limited seating is available, so you are encouraged to buy your tickets prior to the event.
This little-known chapter of America’s military history began with a World War I vet named Philip Johnston who had grown up on the Navajo reservation. Johnston, one the few non-natives to speak the language fluently, suggested to commanders of the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Corps that this convoluted local dialect might make a good way to securely communicate instructions on the battlefield without the time-consuming tasks of encoding and decoding a given message.
Approximately 400 Navajo Code Talkers served with the US Marines in the Pacific Theater. This small band of highly specialized warriors took part in every USMC assault from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. The code talkers faced the challenge of memorizing as many as 600 words and phrases that described everything from troop movements to requests for artillery support. The Navajo language lacked words for many of the basic tools of modern warfare, forcing them to simply make them up.
“That’s part of what made the code so effective,” says MacDonald. “Even someone from the reservation would hear a string of Navajo words like ‘sheep, eyes, horse, onion, turkey’ and it would just sound like gibberish.”
MacDonald says the entire project was considered so important to national security that the code talkers were told not to discuss it with anyone. They didn’t for nearly a quarter-century until their work was declassified in 1968, which was the first time their contributions to the Allied victory in the South Pacific could be recognized. All of the code talkers, including MacDonald, received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2001 for their previously unheralded service.
The Navajo Code is a unique World War II legacy. The code saved hundreds of thousands of lives and helped shorten the war in the Pacific.