During World War II, military commanders on both sides of the war used complicated machines, known as cipher machines, to send messages back and forth. Although, the technology used to encrypt (write in code) these messages was state-of-the-art and complex, the codes were breakable by the enemy IF the enemy learned the key (the way to solve the code). Eager to come up with a way of communicating that was even more difficult to break, military commanders turned to a trick Roman officers used in the first century BCE – they communicated in a language that the enemy didn’t know and couldn’t easily learn.
The Navajo language was so complex and difficult to master, and the people themselves were so isolated, that few outsiders ever mastered the language. It was for these reasons that the Navajo language became the perfect method of unbreakable communication for the US Military during World War II.
Originally, the marines took on 29 Navajo recruits. Those original recruits had to devise new words for military terms that were not part of their native language. For example, a dive bomber was called a chicken hawk, a battleship was a whale, and a commanding officer was called a war chief.
Within the first two days of the battle of Iwo Jima, the Navajo transmitted over 800 messages without a single error. The enemy was completely confused and the battle of Iwo Jima’s success can be attributed in part to the brave men of the Navajo nation who successfully transmitted important coded messages. One american officer stated, “Were it not for the Navajo code talkers, the Marines never would have taken Iwo Jima.”
Eventually the Navajo Code Talkers numbered over 400, and their success attributed to the outcome of the war. Countless movies, documentaries, and books have covered these amazing men and their stories. You can learn more about these american heroes on the website www.navajocodetalkers.org.