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
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
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