Three World War II Navajo Code Talker veterans visited the Luke Air Force Base Base Exchange April 11 through 13 to sign books and answer questions about their roles in the war.
It all began in the early months of WWII.
“The Japanese had people who spoke English fluently and broke every code the U.S. had created,” said Bill Toledo, WWII Navajo Code Talker. “They knew every action the U.S. would take before it was taken, and this was a great problem during the war.”
To resolve the problem, a person named Phillip Johnston came up with a solution to create an indecipherable code.
He was the son of a Protestant missionary and at age 4 began to learn the Navajo language, said Toledo. He was also one of the rare few who was fluent in the language and realized there was great potential in the language. He then convinced the military’s top commanders to allow him to start the Navajo Code Talker test program.
“The first unit had 29 Navajo Code Talkers,” Toledo said. “They came up with the 211 codes that we had to memorize.”
The codes were ingenious and consisted of native terms that were associated with the respective military terms they resembled, according to the Navajo Code Talkers website.
“The advantage we had was the fact that the Navajo language wasn’t written,” said Alfred Newman WWII Navajo Code Talker. “Also very few people outside the Navajo community knew the language.”
Additionally, to supplement the terms used, words could be spelled out using Navajo words.
“For the letter ‘A’ we would think of an ‘ant,’ which is ‘Woo-La-Chee’ in Navajo,” Toledo said. “Then for certain terms like hand grenade we used the word potato, which is ‘Nae-Ma-Si.’”
The code talkers were required to memorize all the codes to keep them secret.
“The codes could never be written down,” Toledo said. “We were all tested on the codes before we left the school to join the war.”
Once their education and training were completed, the Navajo Code Talkers served in several places across the Pacific from Guadalcanal to Okinawa and helped not only save lives but end the war.
“It’s important for the younger generation to know about the Navajo Code Talkers because we helped the U.S. win the war,” Toledo said. “It’s great to be able to travel around the U.S. and help educate kids about the history of the code talkers and how we came to be.”