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This year, Navajo Code Talkers Day is recognized on August 14. It’s a special day honoring the contributions of Native Americans during World War II and their contributions to the evolution of the U.S. Code related to Native American languages, as well as First Nations tribe members who participated in the U.S. military.
There is some confusion around this day, and we think it’s worthwhile to clear up some misconceptions and celebrate our First Nations heroes for their contributions to military forces.
Were Navajo Code Talkers all from the Navajo tribe?
Navajo Code Talkers Day doesn’t single out the Navajo tribe for recognition. The name of the holiday — and the code, too — are kind-of misnomers. Navajo code is a broader term for the coded speech used to fool Nazis and Japanese Imperial forces during World War II. Navajo code depended on the complex Navajo language, and it remains one of the only codes used by the U.S. military to have never been broken during conflicts.
Other tribes associated with the World War II efforts include the Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, and Hopi.
When was First Nations Code first used?
Some sources say First Nations languages were used as early as World War I, when the Choctaw language was used to code a message in preparation for an attack on German forces. The CIA even claims other countries may send their military members to the U.S. to study the Code after World War I.
Why was the Navajo language used?
Philip Johnston partnered with the U.S. Marines because of his expertise in the Navajo language. He’d been living on Navajo reservations since he was a child, and had the idea to create a security code based on the complex Navajo language. The Marine Corps knew they needed native speakers for the project to be a success, so they recruited 29 members of the First Nations.
Non-native Navajo speakers, like Johnston, are extremely rare. The Code was made even more secure by encrypting communications using Navajo as a word-substitution code. It utilized common cryptography games to apply to war. For example, Navajo bird names were applied to weapons of war.
What did the Code Talkers accomplish?
Aside from assuring the security of American military secrets, the Code Talkers could translate, send, and retranslate a coded message in about 150 seconds, an incredible feat that would normally have taken hours. Military history experts believe the U.S. may not have won the Battle of Iwo Jima without the Code Talkers.
Recognizing Code Talkers Today
The Navajo Code Talkers program was declassified in 1968, but it wasn’t until 1982 when President Ronald Reagan established Navajo Code Talkers Day. In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Congressional Gold Medals to 29 Code Talkers, followed by President George W. Bush, who presented medals to even more.
There were about 400 Navajo Code Talkers in total. As of 2019, only five were still living: John Kinsel Sr., Samuel F. Sandoval, Joe Vandever Sr., Thomas H. Begay, and Peter MacDonald.
How to Celebrate
Although the likelihood of you personally knowing any surviving Navajo Code Talkers is rare, you can still acknowledge the day by remembering and talking about their contributions to the U.S. military’s victory in World War I and World War II.
At My Hero Crate, we think every day is a good day to thank a military hero. Express your gratitude to yours with a military care package from My Hero Crate.
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