The New Mexico Governor’s Mansion Foundation considers it an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to offer this ornamental tribute to the Navajo Code Talkers. Through our work, we formed new friendships with the Navajo Nation, especially the Navajo Code Talkers Board of Directors. We support their efforts in keeping the Navajo Code Talkers at the forefront of American history.
In war, it is of vital importance that messages be encoded so the enemy does not know about plans in advance. The idea of using Native Americans who were fluent in both their traditional tribal language and in English to send secret messages on the battlefield was first used in World War I with the Choctaw Telephone Squad and other Native communications experts and messengers.
In early 1942, the Allies were back on their heels in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. The US was having particular problems with the Japanese codebreakers who were highly effective having been educated in the United States and being fluent in standard and colloquial English.
In January 1942, Philip Johnston, a civil engineer in Los Angeles, read an article about military security. He had grown up on the Navajo (Diné) Nation and was fluent in English and Navajo. In February 1942 he presented the concept of a code based on Navajo at the US Marine Corps Camp Elliott near San Diego and arranged a demonstration. Key factors that helped make the Navajo Code unbreakable included that there was then no Navajo alphabet and the Navajo language did not exist in a written form.Thus began the “The Navajo School.”
By April 1942, Marine personnel were recruiting volunteers from within the Navajo Nation. Volunteers had to be fluent in both Navajo and English as well as being physically fit. Some of this must have seemed ironic to the recruits, many of whom had been forced into schools as children where they were punished for speaking their native tongue. Few of the volunteers had ever left the reservation, or ridden on a bus or a train before they left for basic training
The first 29 recruits arrived at Camp Elliot on May 4, 1942. In addition to going through basic training, they helped develop the code. Navajo itself was difficult for non-Navajo’s but the Marines took it to the next level by using word substitution. In addition, multiple Navajo words were chosen to represent the 26 letters of the English alphabet so that the Code Talkers could spell out words that were not in their native vocabulary. The Navajo Code is believed to be the only code in modern times that was unbroken.
In a test of their skills and the code before sending them to deliver actual combat messages, the Code Talkers successfully translated, transmitted and re-translated test messages in minutes, a feat that would have taken hours on an encryption machine. Thereafter, the Code Talkers served in every major Marine action in the Pacific Theater. Their mission was to send tactical information over telephone and radio.At the invasion of Iwo Jima, in 1945 six Code Talkers operated continuously, sending 800 messages without an error.The Code Talkers earned lavish praise for their stamina, ingenuity, scouting and tracking skills and disregard for hardship in their performance in the Solomons, the Marianas, the invasion of Iwo Jima and of Okinawa.
“The Navajo School” graduated 421 Code Talkers who were assigned primarily to combat units overseas. The essential work of the Navajo Code Talkers was not recognized until after the declassification of the operation in 1968.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan gave the Code Talkers a Certificate of Recognition and declared August 14 “Navajo Code Talkers Day.”.n 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a law which awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the original 29 Code Talkers.In July 2001, President George W. Bush presented the medals to the four surviving Code Talkers at a ceremony held in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington.
This special issue is the thirteenth in a series of collectible, commemorative ornaments created by the New Mexico Governor’s Mansion Foundation featuring an historic or notable image associated with the state. All proceeds from the ornament sales benefit the Governor’s Mansion Foundation, a non-partisan organization of volunteers responsible for the interior design and historic legacy of the Governor’s Mansion.