Navajo Code Talkers Day

The Texas Veterans Land Board (VLB) celebrates National Navajo Code Talkers Day.

This day celebrates the Navajo Marines who would transmit messages in their native language to confuse Japanese codebreakers. According to Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue, the Japanese Chief of Intelligence during WWII, the skilled codebreakers never broke the unique code based on the Navajo language. This is remarkable as it was spoken openly over the radio by native Navajo speakers; however, the codebreakers consistently broke the encryptions used by the United States Army and Army Air Corps.

The Navajo language is incredibly complex, has no alphabet, and in 1940, was spoken by only 30 non-Navajo in the world, none of which were Japanese. At the time, there was no written form of the language.

These code talkers used their own language, but also encoded it similarly to the way that the military still uses the alphabet. When expressing an acronym today, for example, TAMMC, a military member would say “Tango Alpha Mike Mike Charlie,” in order to provide clarity and not have letters like B and D sound the same. The Navajo similarly used their language to identify letters of the American alphabet. One example is how to spell the word Navy in Navajo code. A code talker would say “tsah (needle) wol-la-chee (ant) ah-keh-di- glini (victor) tsah-ah-dzoh (yucca)”. So essentially, they spelled out the American word in Navajo, which doesn’t have an alphabet, but used what it stood for instead. Some words were made up for things that didn’t exist in the original language; for submarine, the Navajo used the term “besh-lo” which literally means iron fish.

The Japanese were so confused by this encryption that they failed in most of the encounters where the Navajo Marines were deployed. From 1942 to 1945, every single “island-hopping” battle involved code talkers. At the month-long battle of Iwo Jima, for instance, code talkers sent over 800 messages over the radio with zero errors. In fact, 5th Marine Division signal officer Major Howard Connor emphasized, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”

The Japanese even captured a Navajo soldier, who was not a code talker, at Bataan. He was forced to listen to transmissions using the Navajo language, and after the war, he told a code talker, “I never figured out what you guys who got me into all that trouble were saying.” Fortunately, the Japanese were never able to break this code, even with limited access to the language.

Unfortunately for the Navajo code talkers, the United States Armed Forces found this code so valuable that they classified anything to do with it, and forbade the soldiers and Marines from telling anyone, including their families, what they had done during the war.

As the Cold War heated up after WWII, the U.S. government thought they might need an unbreakable code in the future and safeguarded the knowledge of the code talkers. This meant that no code talker was commended, promoted, or otherwise acknowledged for the great sacrifice and contribution they had made to the war effort. Even after the efforts of the code talkers were declassified in the late 1960s, they were not publicly rewarded.

In 2001 the original 29 Marine code talkers received the Congressional Gold Medal at the White House in a ceremony with President George W. Bush. The other code talkers who came later were granted the Congressional Silver Medal.

Today, the VLB salutes all who served with or as a Navajo code talker in World War II, and their families. Their bravery turned the tide of war in the Pacific and enabled the Allies to triumph.

The VLB is happy to provide any needed help for these American heroes. The mission for the VLB is “to ensure that we offer the very best package of Veterans benefits in the country and those of us who work for the VLB strive to meet those goals every day. For more than 70 years, we have had the honor to serve Veterans, Military Members and their families in Texas, and we look forward to keeping that promise in the years to come.” Call 1–800–252–8387, email VLBinfo@glo.texas.gov, or visit vlb.texas.gov to see the different benefits available.

If you are a Veteran, thank you for your service. Click Here to Sign Up to stay informed on your benefits with the Texas Veterans Land Board.

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A blog for the Texas Veterans Land Board that provides in-depth information on benefits, programs and resources for Veterans, military members and their families in Texas.

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