PHOENIX — The story of the Navajo Code Talkers, who played a crucial role in US victories during World War II, will now be permanently memorialized in Arizona every year.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation last March to honor the Code Talkers on Aug. 14 of each year or the following Sunday if the 14th does not fall on a Sunday.
National Code Talkers Day was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, and though Ducey has previously issued proclamations, this legislation secures the day as an official state holiday.
As a strategy to win the war, the US government recruited and enlisted hundreds of Navajo men to serve in standard communications units.
“The Navajo Code Talkers are American heroes,” Ducey said. “They assisted on every major operation involving the US Marines in the Pacific theater, using their native language to come up with an unbreakable code.”
An unwritten language
More than 400 Navajo Code Talkers answered the call to serve during World War II. Only a handful are still alive, and none of the original 29 Code Talkers who invented the code based on their language is still alive. The last of that group died in 2014.
The initial 29 Navajo tribe recruits created the military code from their native language during their time at boot camp in 1942. Then the Navajos successfully used their freshly memorized code in the Pacific during major battles to send crucial information over the telephone and radio.
At the time, the Navajo language was unwritten and spoken only by a few non-Navajos, making the new code incredibly difficult to decipher. The Japanese never broke the Navajo code used by the Marines, thanks to the Code Talkers.
According to the Navy & Marine Corps WWII Commemorative Committee, six Code Talkers exchanged more than 800 error-free messages at Iwo Jima.
“Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima,” Maj. Howard Connor, the signal officer of the Navajos, said.
Navajo Code Talkers Day celebrates the selfless sacrifice of these brave men, including Arizona’s remaining Code Talkers: Thomas Begay, John Kinsel Jr., Samuel Sandoval and Peter MacDonald.
Recognition at last
The the top-secret military program was not declassified until 1968, though the program still remained largely unknown.
In 1992, the Code Talkers were finally honored at the Pentagon, and President George W. Bush presented the 29 original Code Talkers with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2001.
The Code Talker story became the focus of the 2002 action movie “Windtalkers.”