Speaking and writing in code is not a novel experience for Native Americans. Symbolism and language are a huge part of Indigenous culture, and historically, the ability to share covert information amongst each other helped Natives survive nefarious situations.
There are various instances of this in history. Think about when Native children fought back against Indigenous boarding school staff by plotting and planning their escape using secret codes.
Then fast forward to World War II when Native American Code Talkers from the Navajo Nation helped the US military send secure messages that the enemy could not decipher. These code talkers were unlikely heroes who emerged from the shadows to contribute to the victory during the war.
Take a closer look at who the Native American Code Talkers were during WWII and how they devoted their lives to a significant cause.
Who were the code talkers?
Amid World War II, the United States needed a way to communicate crucial messages about battle plans so they wouldn’t reveal them behind enemy lines. This decision wasn’t new; it was birthed during WWI when the military used the Choctaw language to transmit messages back and forth. While military staff were on edge about utilizing Code Talkers during WWII, primarily due to German knowledge of Indigenous language use in the first world war, they ultimately chose to go for it.
The Marines recruited Native American Code Talkers from the Navajo Nation in 1942 to develop and implement a code based on their native language. And because there was still some uneasiness surrounding this plan, a lieutenant decided to give them a trial run first.
According to the CIA, “The Code Talkers successfully translated, transmitted, and re-translated a test message in two and a half minutes. Without using the Navajo code, it could take hours for a soldier to complete the same task.”
The lieutenant quickly realized their competence and proficiency and immediately put them to work.
How code-talking worked
The Navajo Code Talkers were inventive and strategic, which proved to be a win for the US.
According to historians, “The first type of code they created, Type 1 code, consisted of 26 Navajo terms that stood for individual English letters that could be used to spell out a word. For instance, the Navajo word for “ant,” wo-la-chee, was used to represent the letter “a” in English.”
They got even more creative with the type 2 code. The Code Talkers developed a dictionary of 411 made-up Navajo words based on standard military terms and phrases. “For example, since there was no existing Navajo word for “submarine,” the code talkers agreed to use the term besh-lo, which translates to ‘iron fish.’”
Most Code Talkers worked in pairs, and hundreds of them did this necessary work. While one marine handled the radio transmission, the other would receive the message and translate it into English.
Their work was dangerous. These brave Natives risked their lives for a country that barely recognized them.
Contributions of Native American Code Talkers
By using their knowledge of their native tongue and cleverly developing a coded language, these brave men, undetected, became invaluable assets in helping win crucial battles during WWII. Their contributions safeguarded lives and preserved countries.
The contributions of these unsung heroes are often overlooked when discussing the history of WWII; however, it is believed that without them, many more lives would have been lost due to miscommunication or decryption by enemy forces. The Code Talkers’ courage and ingenuity allowed for secure communication throughout the war effort, which was essential for victory.
Historians state that “despite their heroic contributions during the war, American Indian code talkers were told that they had to keep their work secret. They couldn’t even tell their family members about their communications work. Since the codes that they developed remained unbroken, the US military wanted to keep the program classified in case the Code Talkers were needed again in future wars.”
Let’s thank them for their service!
2 Comments on “The Unsung Heroes: Native American Code Talkers in World War II”
hi Paul is there any way you can introduce that is an Geneoligyist ive been trying to find my greatgrandparents.and Grandfather they were real true indains i fill lost only have face memerys of them when i was a child my grampa took me to paw wow .
Thanks for writing!
I have several resources on PowWows.com to help you trace your family history.
First, start by reading our information here
This page will give you links to more of the content about family history.
Also, I have a free email course about using Ancestry.com to find your Native American family history. The emails take you through Ancestry.com system step by step. And you can do it using their free 14-day trial!
Be sure to join our Facebook group to talk with other people search for their family history.
Let me know if you have more questions!
Good luck with your search.