One of the most important and successful units to fight in the Pacific Theater during WWII had an unlikely beginning. They would come to be known as the Navajo Code Talkers. Among them was Chester Nez.
In the early campaigns against the Japanese in the Pacific, the Japanese became very skilled at intercepting and decoding American military communications. They cracked every code that the U.S. military devised and even were able to insert false orders. There were efforts to make the codes more complicated. but the Japanese were still successfully decoding them.
A Marine Corps officer by the name of Philip Johnston had a brilliant idea. He had grown up on the Navajo Reservation where his father had been a missionary. He knew the Navajo language had no alphabet and was extremely difficult for non-Navajo speakers to learn. He presented the idea of using the Navajo language to develop an unbreakable code system to the Marine Corps and 29 Navajo men chosen to participate in the original experimental program. One of them was Chester Nez, who I have written about in the past. He had already joined the Marine Corps after the Pearl Harbor attack, before being chosen as one of the original 29 Navajo men to participate in the new unit.
These 29 original Code Talkers went to Camp Pendleton, California and trained and developed the Code. The development of the Code is spoken about here in this video. It was as simple as it was effective and would be put into good use by Chester Nez and hundreds of other Navajo Code Talkers throughout the Pacific campaign, from Guadalcanal in November of 1942 through Bouganville and Guam and Peleliu, all the way to Iwo Jima where the Code Talkers passed on hundreds of communications with perfect accuracy that were never broken by the Japanese.
The Japanese were completely baffled by this new code. It was reported after the war that what they heard sounded like people speaking underwater. This ability to pass orders and other necessary battlefield information instantly and without being able to be cracked by the enemy, proved to be of absolute importance in the U.S. military successes in the island hopping campaigns throughout the Pacific.
It was so successful that the Navajo Code talkers were not allowed to go on leave for three years. The Navajo Code itself was held as classified military information for over 20 years. Yet, when the Navajo Code Talkers came home, no matter their courageous and important role in the war effort, they were met with indifference. It was not until 60 years after the war that President Barack Obama awarded the remaining Navajo Code Talkers the Congressional Gold Medal.
Before his death, Chester Nez was also awarded the Audie Murphy award by the American Veterans Center.
The Veterans Site expresses its great gratitude and respect to all those Navajo Code Talkers who served this nation during its greatest test in battle in WWII. The original 29 men are no longer with us. Chester Nez, one of those original 29 Navajo Code Talkers died on June 4, 2014. We honor the memory of him and his Navajo Code Talker brothers. We will never forget! Semper Fidelis!
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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.