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Why Navajo??


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  • Why Navajo??

    Jim Burnes will probably put us all right on this one.
    I saw today the George 'Dubbya' Bush presented 4 out of the remaining 5 Navajo 'Code' specialists with the 'Medal of Honor' seemed to me a little late!
    Firstly, and I could be wrong I thought I heard it was a 'Gold' Medal of Honor, Are there different types? or did I just hear it wrong?
    Secondly why Navajo? Why not Sioux or Apache or any other Native American Language? Is it because Navajo is a lot more complex or has it's own dialects. Or was it simply because they had Navajo people in the Marines at the time?
    Any clarification would be most welcome.
    Take Care All
    "We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence upon those who would do us harm" - George Orwell

  • #2
    "The idea to use Navajo for secure communications came from
    Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos and one
    of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently.
    Johnston, reared on the Navajo reservation, was a World War I
    veteran who knew of the military's search for a code that would
    withstand all attempts to decipher it. He also knew that Native
    American languages--notably Choctaw--had been used in World War I
    to encode messages.

    Johnston believed Navajo answered the military requirement
    for an undecipherable code because Navajo is an unwritten
    language of extreme complexity. Its syntax and tonal qualities,
    not to mention dialects, make it unintelligible to anyone without
    extensive exposure and training. It has no alphabet or symbols,
    and is spoken only on the Navajo lands of the American Southwest.
    One estimate indicates that less than 30 non-Navajos, none of
    them Japanese, could understand the language at the outbreak of
    World War II." By L.C. Kukral, WWll Committee
    Illegitimus non carborundus!


    • #3
      I would venture that since the Navajo were the last major tribe to have been subjugated, then at the time of WWII there were just more Navajo's who still spoke their native language as compared to other groups.


      • #4
        This is very interesting. So if nothing was written down would you need a Navajo Speaker at each end to decipher what was said? If so what if anything were to happen to them?
        "We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence upon those who would do us harm" - George Orwell


        • #5

          PNUTT is right, Raw188 is off the the mark.

          The Navajo Code Talkers were Marines, and numbered at the most 450. They fought in the Pacific regions. Not all Navajo men were a part of the code talkers section and not every Code Talker knew all the codes employed.

          The Japanese intelligence officers knew of the Code Talkers, but never could get any captured Navajo to give up information. Some died under torture and one Navajo man (who was not a Code Talker) survived his torture to become a principal leader of the Navajo.

          There is just a world of history on these men. If you search with the words NAVAJO CODE TALKERS, a weatlh of information will appear on your computer.

          Regards the Gold Medals, you will find that Congress will authorize certain levels of such medals to honor the efforts of people in various endevours.

          All the other nations that fought in WWII fought as Officers, Enlisted, Pilots and Gunners; Naval Commanders and common sailors.

          As an aside; the Iroquious nation (that nation that declined American citizenship in 1924) itself declared war against Japan and allowed its men to fight for American forces.

          Thank you for bringing this topic up.

          Jim Burnes


          • #6
            Originally posted by SWAT1:
            This is very interesting. So if nothing was written down would you need a Navajo Speaker at each end to decipher what was said? If so what if anything were to happen to them?
            O'siyo SWAT1,

            The codes to be used were created on American soil and were phonetic. The messages that flowed from one commander to another through the Navajo Code Talker were transcribed from English into Navajo terms for animals, birds, fish, natural weather formations even. Then the Navajo code talker message receiver would transcibe into English and pass it to the commander.

            The one key point to the absolute security of the system was that the code changed often and only the specific code talkers using that days code could understand the actual meanings of the Navajo words used.

            That is why Navajo who were not code talkers could not divulge any relevant information to break the code: It was strictly compartmentized.

            One simple example was the terms used for a bomber: Because there were so many of so many various nations and types, the Navajo might agree to use the term White Goose for a Japanese bomber and Hawk for American...well in the following week the terms would again change, by agreement of the Code Talkers.

            There were Japanese intelligence officers who were educated in America and knew of the existance of the Navajo nation. But the language was baffling.

            You will read of the Comanche code talkers also. In fact, there were a number of those men too. But their mission was not as large as the Navaho (and their language was totally different).

            Hey, its time to check out the following link:
            www.navajo spaceships, Star Mountain and Rez Memories

            That's a site by John RUSTYWIRE, a Navajo writer and former LEO. He knows all this stuff.

            Jim Burnes


            • #7
              A pleasure as always and an education. I will check out the site with interest. Thanks again for an interesting and informative reply
              Take Care
              "We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence upon those who would do us harm" - George Orwell


              • #8
                Let me add my two cents. It was interesting that the Japanese never broke the code and it bugged them to no end. The awards they got were not the same as Congression medals of honor. If I am not mistaken they got gold Presidential medals of honnor, which are not the same.


                • #9
                  Forgive my ignorance I am not from these parts, again it is what I read or catch part of on a documentary or whatnot.
                  Did it used to be called the Congressional Medal of Honor and the 'Congressional' was later dropped making it simply 'The Medal of Honor?
                  If so what is the Presidential Medal of Honor?
                  Can anybody help?
                  "We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence upon those who would do us harm" - George Orwell


                  • #10
                    RT is right........the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH) is a different award. There are Presidential awards that have different criteria.

                    The CMH is the highest military decoration. As far as I recall, it must involve individual heroism. I will check to be certain.

                    As an aside, ALL military members must salute a CMH holder. In fact, that is the only military member the President salutes. They also recieve a lifetime stipend (although it's not a lot of money) and their children are given slots at the military academy of their choosing.

                    Several states have special license plates for CMH winners, free of course. When I was stationed at Ft. Lewis, there were a couple of CMH winners in the area that regularly came on base. That was one salute I was proud to render.


                    • #11
                      Niteshift is correct, the Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest award given to an individual for bravery. The CMH and Medal of Honor are one and the same. A friend of ours recieved it posthumously for giving his life to save his fellow soldiers in Vietnam. He is buried in a cemetary near my home, a monument and a flag pole stand guard over his grave.


                      [ 07-29-2001: Message edited by: Pnutt ]
                      Illegitimus non carborundus!


                      • #12
                        Unfortunately, many CMH's are given posthumusley In WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam and Somolia, there were 936 CMH's awarded. 527 of those were posthumous.

                        This four marines were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Here is a short article that includes some good history:

                        [i]"President Bush presented Congressional Gold Medals on Thursday to four Navajo ``code talkers'' who baffled the Japanese during World War Two by sending key coded messages in their native language.

                        Standing in the Capitol Rotunda, the gray-haired Marines accepted the medals for their service, which helped the United States to defeat Japanese forces in the Pacific but long went unrecognized because it was classified as a military secret.

                        The U.S. Marine Corps, anxious to find a means of quick and secure communications, recruited the first 29 code talkers in May of 1942 to develop a code in their complex language. The Japanese never succeeded in breaking the code.

                        Four of the five original code talkers who are still living attended the ceremony, representing the roughly 400 Navajo who transmitted the messages but whose work was kept secret by the Pentagon until 1968.

                        ``Today, we mark a moment of shared history and shared victory,'' Bush said. ``It is a story of ... messages traveling by field radio on Iwo Jima in the very language heard across the Colorado plateau centuries ago. Above all it's a story of young Navajos who brought honor to their nation.

                        ``Gentlemen your service inspires the respect and admiration of all Americans and our gratitude is expressed for all time in the medals it is now my honor to present,'' he added before handing each of the men a gold medal.

                        One of the four, Chester Nez, snapped off a smart salute, which Bush returned, as a crowd of legislators and tourists looked on and then gave the code talkers a standing ovation.

                        John Brown Jr., one of the four, spoke of his gratitude for the honor, his pride in his fellow code talkers and the importance of remembering the ``ultimate sacrifice'' paid by the thousands of Americans who died during the war.

                        ``I am proud that at this point in American history our native language and the code we developed came to the aid of our country, saving American lives and helping the other U.S. armed forces to ultimately defeat the enemy,'' he said.

                        Brown then spoke at length in Navajo, saying afterwards: ''Maybe Japan is listening!''

                        Among those who attended the ceremony was actor Nicolas Cage, the star of the forthcoming ``Windtalkers'' movie about the relationship between the code talkers and the Marines assigned to protect them.

                        The Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, serving in all six Marine divisions by transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language.

                        Frustrated by the Japanese ability to crack U.S. codes and by the length of time it took to send and decode many messages, the Marines began looking for a quick, secure alternative.

                        According to a U.S. military history, the idea for using Navajo came from Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary who was raised on a Navajo reservation and was one of the few non-Navajos to speak their language fluently.

                        Johnston believed Navajo answered the military's need for an undecipherable code because it is an unwritten language of extreme complexity, with no alphabet or symbols, that was spoken only on the Navajo lands of the American Southwest.

                        The original 29 code talkers created the code, developing a dictionary and numerous words for military terms which they were required to memorize during training to make it harder for the Japanese to crack the code.

                        In the theater, their primary job was to transmit information on tactics and troop movements, orders and other vital battlefield communications over telephones and radios.


                        • #13

                          Thank you for posting the site to "U.S. Center of Military History." I found another acquaintance, one my husband served with, on the list of CMH winners from the Vietnam Conflict, Maj. Bernie Fisher. What a surprise!!


                          [ 07-29-2001: Message edited by: Pnutt ]
                          Illegitimus non carborundus!


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