Honoring Native Veterans on National Code Talkers Day

August 14 is National Navajo Code Talkers Day. Established by President Reagan in 1982, this day recognizes the service of the Navajo Code Talkers and their vital contributions during World War II (WWII). The first 29 Navajo Code Talkers of the 382nd Platoon, USMC have passed, but today we remember them and preserve the honor they brought to themselves, their people and their country.

The original Native American Code Talkers served the US Army during World War I (WWI) and included Choctaw, Comanche, Hopi and Cherokee veterans. In the early 1940’s, WWI veteran Philip Johnston recalled the value of these code talkers and their languages and suggested the U.S. Marines use a similar communications strategy in WWII. After previewing the language, the Marines recruited the entire 382nd Platoon to develop and memorize the Navajo-coded language, which became one of many Type-One codes that translated English to construct a coded message.

Native Americans hold the distinction of the highest rate of military service of any ethnic group in the U.S., something instilled in us as warriors from our not-so-old ways. In times of war, many Native Americans were drafted, but many also volunteered, and some even lied about their age – some as young as 15 –  in order to be able to serve.

By the end of WWI, more than 25 percent of the Native American male population was active in the military, and their contributions are credited for many key victories in the war. By WWII, an estimated 44,000 Native Americans served their country, and more than 400 of them were Code Talkers.

The Navajo Code Talkers contributed significantly to the WWII war effort and were a major resource in the capture of Iwo Jima island from the Japanese. However, for years, many Americans did not know about the Code Talkers’ critical contributions. It wasn’t until 1968 that the Navajo Code Talker operation was declassified.

Today, there are few Code Talkers left to thank in person, but we will always remember the security they brought us. We appreciate their service and cultures, knowing our world could have been much different if not for the sacrifices they made. To those left, we thank you. To those gone, we remain grateful and know you still watch from afar.

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