During World War II, about 400 Navajo Native Americans became a key weapon in the battle against the Japanese, by simply talking. By using the Navajo language they were able to devise a code that was impossible for the Japanese to decipher. The potential value of the Navajo Code Talkers was recognized early in World War II by Maj. Gen. Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding general of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, after a demonstration on Feb. 28, 1942 at Camp Elliot, Calif. In a letter Vogel wrote to the the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps seeking approval for the program he wrote, “It should also be noted the Navajo tribal dialect is completely unintelligible to all other tribes and all other people, with the possible exception of as many as 28 Americans who have made a study of the dialect. This dialect is thus equivalent to a secret code to the enemy, and admirably suited for rapid, secure communication.” Navajo Code Talkers, who were U.S. Marines, saw action throughout the Pacific theater in places such as Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Bougainville, Saipan, Guam, Palau, and Okinawa.
Despite their invaluable contributions, the Navajo Code Talkers went largely unrecognized after the war. The military told the Code Talkers that their code might be needed in future conflicts. The code was classified until 1968 and recognition came slowly. President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation making Aug. 14, 1982 the first National Navajo Code Talkers Day. “The Navajo Nation, when called upon to serve the United States, contributed a precious commodity never before used in this way. In the midst of the fighting in the Pacific during World War II, a gallant group of men from the Navajo Nation utilized their language in coded form to help speed the Allied victory,” read Reagan’s proclamation. Further recognition came on July 26, 2001 when four of the five original 29 Navajo Code Talkers received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award, from President George W. Bush in a ceremony at the White House. Two films have also shown the contributions of the Navajo Code Talkers, Never So Few and Windtalkers. It has been estimated that fewer than 70 Navajo Code Talkers are still alive.