Who would have thought a once-forbidden language would help win a strategic battle of World War II?
August 14th is National Navajo Code Talkers Day. Most of us have seen the famous picture of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. But the facts behind this event have been buried in history’s dust for years.
What was so important about the Battle of Iwo Jima? And how were Navajo Code Talkers largely responsible for its success? It all goes back to a proud, fiercely loyal group of people—the Navajo Nation-- who suffered ill treatment as children.
Step back in time to the era when these Marines were growing up in the early part of the last century. Well-meaning people began forcing Navajo children to leave home and live in boarding schools. Their purpose was to “Americanize” them.
It was a gut-wrenching existence. Children were punished if they tried to speak their native language. They were beaten for failure to cooperate. Confused and frightened, they soon learned to comply with the wishes of their overseers and were “Americanized.” However, God planned to turn their adversity into a positive outcome for all Americans.
Fast forward to 1941 and ‘42. America was at war with Japan. The island of Iwo Jima, 750 miles away from Japan, contained three airfields which could be used to launch attacks on our enemy. Taking possession of this island was of paramount importance.
However, the Americans had no code which our enemies couldn’t crack. Soldiers were losing their lives. The Marines decided to try Navajo as a code. It was a language with no written alphabet, and extremely difficult to learn unless a person were raised speaking it. Adding to the challenge, Navajo language had no words for military terms.
The Marine Corp recruited young men from the Navajo Nation to form the first code-talkers group. They spent weeks in training and developed a system which enabled them to translate three lines of English in 20 seconds, as opposed to 30 minutes, with other codes available at the time. These bright Native Americans took part in every major Marine operation in the Pacific. During the battle for Iwo Jima, lasting five weeks, six Navajo code talkers successfully transmitted more than 800 messages without error.
Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima, was fortified with tunnels, pillboxes and caves. The 554-foot inactive volcano on top overlooked the beach where Marines launched an amphibious approach. Great numbers of our soldiers were slaughtered by enemy fire. That is where the Code Talkers helped save the day.
These dedicated Marines transmitted a signal for reinforcement—in code—which took 20 seconds to decode and then relay. Their skill saved thousands more lives than were lost already.
Do you follow the significance? Despite the ill treatment of Navajos, they were willing to forgive their persecutors and join forces to save our nation. Many lives were saved due to their efforts. God has a unique way of transforming unpleasant circumstances in our lives to benefit others, for those willing to forgive. We can never thank these code talkers enough for their bravery and their loyalty to America.
Children punished for speaking the only language they knew at the time? Cruel beyond imagination. But God turned it into good for our entire nation. Thank you, Navajo patriots.
The last of the Navajo Code Talkers in 2013