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WINDTALKERS

The Navajo Code Talkers
The idea of using the Navajo language to create a secure method of wartime communication is credited to Philip Johnston. Native American languages had been used before to encode messages during World War I, but Johnston knew how important it was that the military find a code that absolutely could not be broken. He was confident that the Navajo language was a perfect candidate for use in coding.

Johnston, the son of a missionary, grew up on a Navajo reservation and was one of the few non-Navajo able to speak the incredibly complicated and unwritten language. In 1942, once Johnston convinced the Marines of the language's usefulness, 29 Navajo Marines completed boot camp at the Marine Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. After boot camp they were sent to Camp Elliot (modern day Marine Air Corps Station Miramar) to develop the code. Eventually around 400 Navajo men were trained in the code's use and served as code talkers in the Pacific battles of the war.

During battle, the code talkers' primary objective was to facilitate communication on the battlefield, transmitting information over telephones and radios between Marine units and command centers about troop movement, orders, tactics, and other vital information. At Iwo Jima alone, the code talkers transmitted over 800 error-free messages in a 48-hour period. The Japanese were never able to break the code, and it became an indispensable tool for World War II military communication.

Because of its success and its possible use in future combat (the code was actually given limited use again in the Korean War), the code talkers were sworn to secrecy about their involvement in the war, and the code wasn't declassified until 1968. As a result, the code talkers' accomplishments went largely unheralded.

The 29 original Marine code talkers who developed the code were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in Washington, DC, by President George W. Bush on July 26, 2001.

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