Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Honoring the Navajo Code Talkers on Veterans Day

Navajo Code Talker Lemuel YazzieNavajo Code Talker Lemuel Yazzie. AP Photo/Seth Wenig.

Today, 13 of the famed Navajo Code Talkers from World War II will participate for the first time in the New York City Veterans Day parade.

This Marine unit used Navajo language-encrypted military terms in a code that was never broken by the Japanese. One of the things that made it so hard to break was that different words could be used for exactly the same message. The Navajo were sworn to secrecy about the code, and kept their secret long after the code was declassified in 1968.

There were about 400 Code Talkers in all; it is believed that about 50 are still alive--most living in the Navajo Nation, which is located in northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, and southeastern Utah. (Navajoland, or Diné Bikéyah, covers 27,000 square miles, which makes it larger than many U.S. states.)

Recognition for these brave Marines was slow to come. In 2000, the Congressional Gold Medal was bestowed on the survivors of the original 29 Code Talkers, and silver medals on the rest. The Navajo Code Talkers Foundation is creating a museum in their honor which is expected to open in New Mexico, near the Navajo capital of Window Rock, Arizona in 2012.

Navajo Code Talkers Veterans DayNavajo Code Talkers (from left) Lloyd Oliver, Bahe Ketchum, and Joe Vandever. AP Photo/Seth Wenig.

New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman has devoted part of his website to information about the Code Talkers; click here for more information.