Monday is Navajo Code Talkers Day, here’s what that means
Aug 14, 2023, 12:37 PM | Updated: 2:14 pm
Monday, Aug. 14 is Navajo Code Talkers Day, celebrating the Navajo Nation members that served in World War II by transmitting messages in code.
In 1942, 29 recruited Navajos arrived to train at Camp Elliott near San Diego. The Navajo language was a “perfect option,” according to the CIA website, because it is not a written language and very few people who aren’t of Navajo origin can speak it or understand it.
#OTD, we honor the National Navajo Code Talkers, who used their tribal language to send secret communications on the battlefield during the Pacific Island-Hopping Campaign of World War II. pic.twitter.com/m51GDZeWuo
— U.S. Marines (@USMC) August 14, 2023
The recruits worked to develop a Navajo Code based on word substitution, to make it even more complicated for outsiders to crack the code to their messages. For example, Navajo words for different types of birds were used to stand in for different kinds of planes.
The code began with 211 vocabulary terms and expanded to 411 terms over the course of the war. An alphabet system was also developed by the code talkers to spell out any words not found in Navajo vocabulary.
That full Navajo Code Talker’s Dictionary can be found here.
In one of their first tests of the code, the code talkers translated, transmitted, and re-translated a test message in just two-and-a-half minutes. That same task, without the Navajo code, generally took a soldier hours to complete.
During the month-long battle over Iwo Jima, six code talkers worked continuously and sent more than 800 messages without any errors. Major Howard Connor, the signal officer of the Navajos at Iwo Jima, said “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”
Over the course of the war, approximately 400 Navajos participated in the code talker program.
However, Navajos were not honored for their service until the operation was declassified in 1968. President Ronald Reagan declared August 14 as Navajo Code Talkers Day in 1982.
Today, there are three remaining survivors of the code talkers: Peter MacDonald, John Kinsel Sr., and Thomas H. Begay.
The Navajo Nation sits in four states, including Utah in the Four Corners area. On Aug. 14, 2022, Navajo Nation broke ground on a National Code Talkers Museum in New Mexico.