Honored by what they did, at peace with who they are

Conversations about NAVAJO CODE TALKERS

In the spring of 1942, 29 Navajos, fluent in English and Navajo, were recruited by the Marines and charges with the top-secret mission of inventing a code based on their language. Secure radio communications were crucial to the successful invasion of the Pacific islands. The guttural, tone-based language of the Navajos had only been mastered by a handful of non-Navajos, and Navajo has no written alphabet. The original Navajo code included 200 terms and an alphabet based on English words, but spoken in Navajo. By the end of the war, more than 420 Navajos had served as Code Talkers utilizing an expanded code of more than 400 terms. The code was never broken by the Japanese. This secure communications was an invaluable contribution to the war effort.

The stories in this issue on the Navajo Code Talkers and the Australian Aborigines offer small windows on a large landscape where indigenous peoples have struggles. The Navajos were vital to the success of Allied Forces in the Pacific Theater of World War II. This report and the two first-person accounts that follow it look at "the inward man"—the hearts and motives of the men who served as Code Talkers. They also explore Navajo views of the sacred, and the spiritual journeys of two women who, with the help of Navajo veterans and their families, wrote and illustrated The Unbreakable Code, an award-winning children's book.

Honor was overdue. But peace within truly came first—and, for the Navajos as a people, never was lost, even in the times of neglect and oppression. To talk with Navajos about the experiences of Code Talkers in World War II is inevitably to explore the ancient/modern questions of individuality and identity—to find that feeling of inner harmony that comes from knowing who one is and how we connect with the Father-Mother of the universe.

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