Navaho Code Talkers
Throughout their history Native American men have considered themselves warriors. They were responsible for taking care of and protecting their people. Training to be a warrior was something every male would go through. It was a great honor to complete the training and be initiated into the warrior group of their society.
The idea of protecting people caused many Native Americans to sign up for military service in World War I. Some felt great patriotism for the United States. Others wanted economic security. More than 12,000 Native American males served in the military during WWI. This was twenty-five percent of all Native American males at that time. Native Americans relayed important information in their own languages by telephone in code and helped win several battles. They were called a telephone squad.
In 1941 and 1942, the Marines asked 29 members of the Navaho nation to develop a code in their language to prevent the enemy from being able to intercept messages. The Marine Corps began training in a Code Talking School. Eventually 400 Navaho men had enrolled. Members of at least 16 tribes served in WWII in the Navy, Marines and Army. Some volunteered, but some were drafted. When the government drafts a person, it is because they are short of soldiers, and the person is required to serve.
Many of the tribes just used their own languages to send the messages. The Japanese didn't know them and couldn't interpret the messages. These were called Type Two codes. However, the Navaho, Meskwakis, Comanches and Hopis made up their own codes. These were called Type One codes. They would choose a word from their language to represent each letter of the English alphabet. The message would be written letter by letter using an Indian word for each letter. These tribes had to create special words for military terms. For example, they used the word for eagle to represent airplane and the word for houses on water to represent ships.
Keeping messages secret could win or lose a battle. The code talkers had to know how to operate radio equipment. They had to be able to set up the communication wires. Navaho Code Talkers memorized 17 pages of code. Under the pressure of battle, they had to recall the code and send the message in secret.
Messages were given to the Code Talkers in English and coded and sent to another Code Talker. The message was then written in a logbook in English. The Navaho Code Talkers created their own dictionary of codes. It was kept secret until 1968.
The Navaho and the Hopi served in the Pacific against Japan. The Comanche served in Europe against the Germans. The Meskwaki fought the Germans in North Africa. Like all soldiers, the Code Talkers have many memories of their experiences during WWII. Some remember the noise and violence of battle. Some have memories of a prison camp. Others saw friends killed and injured or were injured themselves. Many mention that their American Indian spirituality helped them through hard times.
Carl Gorman was one of the original 29 Native American Marines asked to develop the code. When one of his officers asked how the Navaho could remember all of that code, Carl told him that since they had no written language, Indians had to always rely on their memories. Carl served in four important Pacific battles. In 1942, he contracted malaria, a serious infectious disease but continued fighting. However, he was removed from the war because he suffered from malaria and shell shock. A soldier develops shell shock from the constant noise of the guns and bombs going off around him. A man's mind can suffer psychological effects from so much of that noise. It took many months for Carl Gorman to recover.
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