Janice’s Review Blog

Book reveals secrets of Navajo code talkers

Posted on: December 13, 2009

"Navajo Weapon" documents the story of the Navajo code talkers.

"Navajo Weapon" documents the story of the Navajo code talkers.

Sally McClain writes a comprehensive book about the Navajo code talkers of World War II and includes photos and illustrations throughout the book.  “Navajo Weapon” tells not only of the training and exploits of the code talkers during the war but also discloses their life on the reservation before recruitment and after discharge from the Marine Corps. 

The code talkers share their feelings about serving in the Marines and helping their country during World War II.  They also tell how they live life on the reservation and how harsh discipline at the boarding schools where they were sent helped them become outstanding code talkers. 

The “First 29” recruits left Fort Defiance on May 4, 1942, were sworn in at Fort Wingate and traveled to the San Diego Marine Recruit Depot to boot camp where they learned discipline and obedience.  Boot camp where the drill instructor demanded direct eye contact and bellowed instructions went against the Navajos’ cultural experiences. 

Code talker Eugene Crawford describes their arrival at Camp Elliott for special duty.  The classroom reminded him of the BIA boarding school where teachers punished the Navajo students for speaking their language.  Ironically the Marine Corps wanted the Navajo to use their language to develop a combat code.  They worked together to develop an alphabet, and unlike their boarding school days, “no one was going to beat them or wash out their mouths with lye soap for speaking Navajo.”  

“Their collective creativity was one of complete harmony,” wrote McClain.  “They were one heart, one mind, one voice and one spirit.” 

McClain uses tables to list “The Code Talker Alphabet” and “Code Talker Terminology,” which represented military terms.  The Navajo dictionary evolved and increased during World War II and McClain includes the “Navajo Dictionary Revised as of 15 June, 1945 Final Revised Edition” in Appendix 6 of the book. 

Through first hand accounts and military papers, McClain tells how the Navajo code talkers helped the Marine Corps effort during nine South Pacific battles including Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Guam and Bougainville.  When code talkers transmitted messages, they preceded messages with Arizona or New Mexico to avoid confusion.  The Navajo performed their transmissions with security, accuracy and speed, which made a difference in combat.  Their mission remained a secret during and after World War II.    

The Navajo needed protection because the Marines mistook them for Japanese.  Some received body guards, others just followed instructions and tried to stay out of harms way.   The Navajo sent code, served as runners and strung wire as ordered.  Superiors sent glowing reports of the code talkers performance after each assignment and battle.   

Because of their secret mission, the code talkers usually knew of secret missions from superiors before anyone else.  “Navajos working at CinComSoPac knew that something big was in the wind,” writes McClain.  “They heard about ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Little Big Boy,’ nicknames for the plutonium and uranium bombs, and realized that the war would soon be over one way or another.” 

After the war, the code talker left silently and secretly.  Their discharge papers did not contain the 642, which stood for Code Talker.  A commanding officer explained to a code talker that in the future the United States might go to war with Russia, and the code talkers might be needed.  

After 24 years, the code talkers were honored at the 22nd reunion of the 4th Marine Division Association on June 28, 1969 in Chicago.  Lee Cannon, a member of the Honor Committee, presented each code talker with a specially designed medallion.  

“These men are quiet; they keep their trust; they are 4th Division Heroes-every one of them,” said Cannon.  

The book represents a time in history many know nothing about, but the book tells everything about the Navajo code talker heros, who saved many lives and helped to bring the war to a faster end. 

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