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Fact Tuesday: Navajo Code Talkers

by Countable | 11.28.17

On Monday, President Donald Trump honored the Navajo Code Talkers, the Native Americans who helped the Marines send secret messages across the Pacific during World War II.

Here are some facts – on a Tuesday during National American Indian Heritage Month – about the Navajo Code Talkers:

  • In 1942, the U.S. Armed Forces were facing a major problem: "Military communications were made available to the enemy like sand sifting through a sieve" one war analyst commented. World War II had become a literal war of words.

  • Many of the Japanese code breakers had been educated in the U.S. and understood American colloquialisms, slang, and profanity — leaving the U.S. in desperate need of a code the Japanese couldn’t break.

  • Philip Johnson, a World War I veteran who’d grown up on a Navajo reservation, suggested to the U.S. Marine Corps that the Navajo language was the solution.

  • Navajo, like most Native American languages, has no alphabet and there were no written materials for the enemy to use to try and work out what was being said. As Naval History and Heritage Command explained, "One estimate indicates that less than 30 non-Navajos, none of them Japanese, could understand the language at the outbreak of World War II."

  • The Marines recruited 29 Navajos for a pilot program, and Johnston staged tests under simulated combat conditions for the recruits. Machines required 30 minutes to encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message — the Navajo recruits required 20 seconds.

  • Working with the Marines, the Navajo Code Talkers used their language to develop a dictionary and words for certain military terminology.


Code talkers at work, Australia, July 1943


  • Chester Nez, who helped create the code, told the story of the first message he sent while serving at Guadalcanal: "Enemy machine gun nest on your right. Destroy." What Nez transmitted, however, was: “Anaai (Enemy) naatsosi (Japanese) beeldooh alhaa dildoni (machine gun) nishnaajigo nahdikadgo (on your right flank). Diiltaah (Destroy).”

  • Several of these (translated) coinages became Military slang, including gofasters for running shoes and ink sticks for pens

  • By war’s end, nearly 400 Navajos participated in the Code Talker program. They were joined by Native Americans from other tribes, including the Hopi, Meskwakis, and Comanches.

  • The Navajo Code Talker program wasn’t fully declassified until 1968. It remains the only oral military code that has never been broken.

— Josh Herman

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(27)
  • M
    11/29/2017
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    These brave Native American warriors provided an invaluable wartime service for our country. What a shameful act for the man occupying the office of President to demean a ceremony meant to honor the Code Talkers with stupid racial slurs and idiotic comments. What an insult to these American heroes and all Native Americans. Trump just keeps dragging America down in the eyes of the world. How sad and stupid.

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  • Karan
    11/28/2017
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    Thank you to all of the Navajo Natives who fought in service of their country and helped us write messages that the Japanese couldn’t decode. You are truly heroes and God Bless you all.

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  • Bruno
    11/28/2017
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    Thank you brave Soldiers and Americans...it is a shame that we have a president who has difficulty honoring people...it’s all about his ego and immaturity.....no clue about what honorable service means...

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  • Christine
    11/29/2017
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    Disgraceful to honor true Native American heroes under a painting of Andrew Jackson who was directly responsible for thousands of Native American deaths and have djt use the name of a Native American heroine to slur a sitting senator. Thank you Navajo Code Talkers for your heroism and your grace yesterday.

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  • John
    11/29/2017
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    The code takers deserve to be honored, they stepped up and put themselves in harms way when their country needed them. It is a crime that the man who was supposed to do that , but, only managed to insult them, ran away from the fray when his country needed him in Vietnam. The way he talked down to them and condescendingly put his hand on their shoulders was a disgusting display of his ego... he doesn't deserve to be in the same room as these brave men let along touch them.

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  • Ochoninja
    11/28/2017
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    It was appropriate to honor the Navajo Code Talkers but again Trump had to add a racist comment and have a picture of Andrew Jackson behind them who broke treaties made with Native Americans and gave blankets infected with small pox

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  • Catherine
    11/28/2017
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    Heroes is what they are! And they deserve so much appreciation for their part in the war. Sorry they had to receive their awards from Trump! They deserve so much better!

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  • Susan
    11/28/2017
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    This is a great story and one that should be shared and taught and honored. Of course trump couldn’t help himself to make it all about him and slander it with racial remarks on television no less. What a jackass. How embarrassing for the entire world to see. How can that orange idiot live with himself.

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  • NoHedges
    11/28/2017
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    Another FACT, according to Kid’s Count Data Center over 126 thousands Native American children are living in extreme poverty in the US.

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  • Jesse
    11/28/2017
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    Trump is an stupid president who a racist man who does even care what he says

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  • Kathy
    11/29/2017
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    Trump is crass and undisciplined. I’m not surprised that he has a history of sexual assault because those types rely on bullying their victims. I hope he spends his old age lonely with plenty of time to perseverate over his mistakes and be filled with regret.

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  • BeckyRae12345
    11/29/2017
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    What a disgusting insult to our vets. Another sad day for our country. Another day, another insult to democracy.

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  • verymary
    11/29/2017
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    Our President's crass dismissal of the Navajo code-talkers, of these genuine American heroes and survivors of many generations of mistreatment by the leaders of their own country, of these soldiers and saviors -- our President's mistreatment of them has exemplified yet again what a poor excuse for a human being he is. I am ashamed of the members of Congress who cannot bring themselves to utter the word "impeach."

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  • Candy
    11/29/2017
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    So this is not disrespectful to veterans but worrying about football players kneeling during the national anthem is? Quit thanking me for my service. You America have no respect. Be ashamed of yourselves.

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  • Marylynn
    11/29/2017
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    If it weren't for these brave men, we would've lost the war. They put themselves in harms way on a daily basis, something the Liar in Chief knows nothing about. The moron in the White House is a 5 time draft dodger, who doesn't know the first thing about serving his country. He's a lowlife coward who bullies his way through life. He's a disgrace to every man and woman who serves in the military.

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  • Countryfirst
    11/29/2017
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    Just when you think the moron in chief trump can't say anything worse..he does. He is insulting and a total embarrassment for this great country..this idiot a nd his moronic supporters are destroying the very foundation of America. He needs to be IMPEACHED!!!

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  • J
    05/17/2018
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    History question: who were the perpetrators

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  • Lawrence
    11/29/2017
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    I apologize for the Commander-in-Crap... you deserve our most hearty appreciation!! Thank you, fellow Americans!! 👍👍

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  • Azrael
    11/28/2017
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    If not for these brave soldiers, some of us would not be here If your parents served in ww2 they owe their lives to these hero’s

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  • SneakyPete
    11/29/2017
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    It goes without saying that the Navaho Code Talkers provided a immensely important service to the Marine Corps and other Services during the Second World War. Their Code was never broken by the Japanese Military. If you have not watched the movie “WindTalkers” staring Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, you’re missing a excellent history of this great military organization of WW2.

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