Navajo Code Talkers and Impact on World War II

Navajo Code Talkers and Impact on World War II

The US intelligence referred to the Navajo Indian Code talkers as the Windtalkers. People came up with some encryption techniques and code systems during the world war that was based on the Navajo language. This was one of the most proficient codes ever to be used and remained in use throughout the conflict. It is worth pointing out that the Navajo code was not the only attempt to utilize the Native American dialect to make the military’s communication private. During the First World War, the army had acquired the Choctaw language that forced them to hire more Choctaw code talkers. The native connections attracted the code professionally since most of them had no proper writing systems and a small group of people only spoke it in society. The first use of the Indian language as military communication code entailed the use of spoken communication and translating the information into English. The technique was perfect as no additional encryption was to be employed to better the interactions between the people. This paper will seek to explore the importance of the Navajo Code Talkers to the success of the US Marine forces in the Pacific during World War 2.

The start of WWII forced the army leaders to regain their interest in coming up with highly sophisticated ways of communicating with each other.  In a recent study, it was noted that most of the allied and axis forces depended on new cipher technologies and tough mathematical encryption tables to encode different sets of information (Dahl 11). The main problem was most of the Intelligence service cryptologist expert easily broke most of these codes making the use of Codebooks very risky and easy to be understood by the enemy military force. The latter forced the cryptologist to continually change the systems to ensure that the enemy teams did not acquire them. Thus, the code developer was tasked with devising a straightforward, functional, as well as secure code to use during a war.

The Navajo Code Talkers were actively engaged in almost all the fights that were led by the US Marines in the Pacific. The group conveyed the message via phones and radiation using their native dialect, which proved to be very hard for the Japanese to break at all times. The later created a significant issue for the Japanese to strategize against the US forces, who were their main enemies. The Navajo radio code was made up of words that were identified from the Navajo community and integrated into military terms. Previously, it was made up of more than two hundred and eleven words, but as the war went on, they were increased by more than two hundred codes.  Studies claim that the efficiency of the Navajo language is based on the fact that it did not employ any military terminology, and the codes were very new with engraved military meanings. For instance, the term “To-Dineh-ih” was used to mean the Sea Force. Moreover, the Navajo language had an alphabet system with more than forty-four words. To achieve such an extensive amount of words, the Code developed continuously repeated some letters.

The success observed by the Navajo Code Talkers was because the team offered a highly secure, fast, as well as an efficient way of communication through phone and radio during the Second World War in the Pacific. The twenty-nine Navajo speakers were passed through a series of intensive code developing training to ensure that they design a system that enemies would not readily associate within the war. For instance, they were taken to a foreign nation where they were prepared to fit perfectly in the USA Marines. This ensured that they were effective in delivering their services to their country regardless of the fact this would be their first encounter in war. The success of the first group provided the much-needed motivation for the rest of the team which saw more than four hundred Navajo men being recruited as a Code talker during the Second World War. The coder talkers were treated well during the war by the American government which explains their high numbers and willingness to participate in the Pacific war.

However, after returning from the war, the Navajo Code Talkers were not given any form of appreciation or official welcome home from the war. Besides, their roles in the war were not shared broadly in society even after the program was revealed in the year 1968. To rectify this mistake, President Ronald Reagan officially announced August 14 to be honored as a National Code Talker Day (Däwes and Ingrid 78). In the year 2000, the Honoring of the Navajo Code Talkers Act was passed and by the year 2001, the fighters were given congressional gold and silver medals. All these measures have been set aside to ensure that the Navajo Code Speakers are appreciated for their excellent work in improving communications during the most critical war in the world.

During WWII which took place in early 1942, the superpower countries had their plan of going astray. France was outdone by their colonizers and had to keep calm because they knew they could not offer maximum resistance. Britain was still surviving in the war, but they were almost overpowered by their colonizers (Däwes and Ingrid 78). The Japanese colony had overwhelmed the U.S military.  Most of the attack occurred at the harbors in the Philippines and Guam which helped them acquire new territories in the south pacific mostly in Malaya. Germany had improved its military forces to the Soviet Union which looked to be at least much powerful than they were earlier. The Russian port had become a major interest for Hitler’s submarines which were destructive to these states on the periphery of the Pacific.

As the war was on in the colonies, communication became a key factor. The U.S had a significant difficulty to keep their secrets. This made it less powerful despite their great armed force which could do better in the war. Their secrets were known by the Japanese because most of them schooled in the United States. Those Japanese, therefore, understood well the war plan for U.S military thus becoming an excellent challenge for the United States. According to studies done by Quinlan (389), it is proclaimed that the enemies were alerted about the armed force by merely observing the sandy places. The American became of no resistance to the Japanese military because of the shortcoming that they had with them. The Japanese army, therefore, took over the U.S colony without any problem.

As the time of war went on, the answer came up from one of the unreliable member of the US community, Mr. Philip Johnston who was a civil engineer residing in Los Angeles. Johnston had an understanding of how a particular language which other states did not use in their communication could be utilised since the enemy was not able to understand the word. Philip was a son to a missionary man who lived with her lover in the reservation areas of Navajo that extends into the New Mexico and Arizona. He was born here and thus their primary language which he used to communicate since his tender age was the Navajo. This language was complex, and it possed a challenge for other people to understand it due to its complexity (Quinlan, 389). Navajo had compound verbs and also words which were homophones, and this made it a better tool of communication. The other people find the language as a tongue twister and considered it as an outdated way of communication. During the wartime in 1942, there were no written sources with Navajo, and thus the language was not in existence. In the government institution where most Indians schooled, Navajo was rarely spoken, only English language which was taught in school.

Mr. Johnston was aging but still was interested in taking part in the Second World War that was going on. During the First World War, he served in France after the expedition that had opened in America. After getting access to an article in early 1942, he started his journey to go and visit the United States navy camp in the San Diego areas. At the field, he conversed with the marine corps Elliot and later held a meeting with the Corp Communications Officer Lieutenant Colonel  James E. Jones. He informed him of the Navajo language and how it can be helpful to them when conveying their messages without them risking the information leaking to their enemies (Lee 257). Johnston told them that this would help them keep their secrets, but they had some doubts about this. However,  he insisted that they try it out.

Mr. Johnston went back to Los Angeles but had some doubts that the Marine Corps will not use this idea of using Navajo to communicate.  Johnston selected a group of four people who knew the Navajo well and planned to journey back to the Elliott camp in early 1942 to manifest themselves before the staff office. Their presentation impressed the officers, and two of the Navajo were taken into the camp to translate the information passed into English for them to understand (Lee 257). The two Navajo stayed in a separated camp, and after the translation, the message outlaid the original orders as stated out. This impressed the staff and, therefore, the camp Elliot commander Clayton Vogel saw the need to recruit 200 Navajo speakers. The 200 young Navajo speakers were appointed as the communication specialists. Thirty of the Navajo speakers were given authority to prove Johnston’s theory.

The Navajos were to make the U.S communication during the war a secret from the enemy listeners. Therefore, the Navajos were asked to design a measure to ensure the safety of what they communicated during the war. This was to ensure the enemies were not able to know their plans. The designed sets of words were to be short and easily understood by the army men. The set of words also were to be quick to enhance easy readability and memory. The Navajos designed a two side set which had the alphabetic letter replaced by the names of the 18 animals and birds plus other simple words such as Yucca (Y) and Quiver (Q) (Lee 257). The other part had 211 English terms which were mostly vocabularies but had the word that had similar pronunciations in the Navajo. The marine corps was used to the long and hard way of communication which involved using complicated electronic systems.

The Navajo made it easier to communicate, however, it depends on the person who was relaying the information and the receiver’s brain, eyes, and ears. Excellent and sharp minds made it easier to communicate. Those who knew the code of conveying information were to be the trustful members who could not leak the message to the enemies. During this period of training one member of the Navajo left the camp but those who remained in California had to train the next group of the military. Two of the remaining groups of the Navajo were to move around and pick another group from the Navajo (Poyer 417). Apart from the two recruiters the other group of the Navajo was taken to Guadalcanal where they were assigned to teach the first group of marine by Major General Alexander Vandergrift. Mr. Vandergrift requested for another group of the Navajo to assist those in California. Mr. Johnston Philip was the group administrator. By the end of the month, there were two hundred graduates from California. The smart art graphic below presents factors that made the Navajo code talkers a great success during World War II.

In the other camp fighting in the jungle combat, there was the teaching of scouting and tracking skills, Spartan habits and their ingenuity. The Navajo experienced hard times with the military where the soldiers mistakenly killed most of them as enemies. One of the Navajo speakers, Mr. McCabe was lost in the Guadalcanal beach waiting for his ship. In this situation, McCabe met the whites who interviewed him and both had rifles pointed at her, however, he escaped the danger of being killed. At the eve of that day, one of the soldiers accompanied McCabe to Okinawa. At their arrival, the Navajo did a traditional act to invoke their deities’ blessings and protection for the United States of America (Quinlan 389). The Navajo made it clear that they pray during the times of landing, and thus they pray for their enemies to be weak to their military forces.

The inland Japanese once come out with a severe attack, but the U.S army was able to conquer them because they isolated themselves by the Navajo language which the enemies did not understand. The external attackers also were obliterated by a different group of marine. Solomon and Mariana on Peleliu and Iwo Jima including other marine groups were now safe. The Navajo code played a significant role in the war as it is revealed by Officer Major Howard Conner of the fifth marine group. After a couple of days, a radio signal was sent, and with no delay, it was received, and the feedback sent back to America from Iwo Jima. The American Marine corps fully acquired Iwo Jima. This was made easy by the Navajo who played a significant role in ensuring safe and secret communication, and many of the officers ascertained that without the Navajo, the Iwo Jima would not have captured by the Marine Corps.


In conclusion, the invasion, settlement, and freeing of Guam had an everlasting impact on the regional people, national government, as well as agencies.  The Navajo Code talkers began with Philip Johnston who had previously participated in the World War One and had lived long enough with the Navajo people. This implies that he had a vast knowledge regarding some of the significant problems that affect the people in the war and how the case could be rectified in the society. Johnston knew that if the enemy would easily encrypt the information being relayed via telephone and radio, then it would be challenging for the military to realize success. Furthermore, his experience with the Navajo culture made him suggest it be utilized as an army code. The leaders were skeptical, but after trying it, they realized that it would bring significant amounts of success.

The other thing that made the war a great success was based on the fact that Navajo Code Talker’s recruits were passed through a well-planned military program which ensured that they would perfectly fit in the first-class US marine force. The language had more than 26 alphabet letters that allowed the cryptologists to come with words that were very hard for the other people to comprehend quickly. The government also did not reveal the secret team of code talkers that were integrated into the war which helped in ensuring that the enemies had little chance of knowing this communication. The government also did not reveal its main secret by not openly welcoming its Navajo Code Talkers after the war; instead, they had to wait until later years to declassify it. Thus, the Navajo Code Talkers success in the war can be attributed to the intensive training they were put through, excellent treatment in the army, and the government’s efforts to ensure the team remains unnoticed.















Works Cited

Dahl, Amanda. “The Navajo Code Talkers of World War II: The Long Journey to Recognition.” Historical Perspectives: Santa Clara University Undergraduate Journal of History, Series II 21.1 (2016): 11.

Quinlan, Mary Kay. “Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday, Navajo Code Talker by Samuel Holiday and Robert S. McPherson.” Oral History Review 42.2 (2015): 389-391.

Däwes, Birgit, and Ingrid Gessner. “Commemorating World War II at 70: Ethnic and Transnational Perspectives and Introduction.” ASJ, (2015): 78.

Poyer, Lin. “World War II and the development of global indigenous identities.” Identities 24.4 (2017): 417-435.

Lee, Lloyd Lance. “Must fluently speak and understand Navajo and read and write English”: Navajo Leadership in a Language Shift World.” Indigenous Policy Journal 28.1 (2017): 346-359.