One of the unsung stories of WWII was the involvement of the Navajo Code Talkers in the Pacific Theater. In our always-on, digital world we forget that secure communications over large distances was incredibly difficult 70 years ago. Computers as we know them today simply didn’t exist, making electronic encryption an impossibility. Radio and telephone communications could be secured but only through the use of code language. The Japanese had studied English and America for years before the war and had a distressing success rate in breaking our codes.
When the Marines were engaged in the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific they needed the ability to communicated in a secure manner but also faster than the more complicated code languages could support. Those complicated codes made things secure but it could take hours to decrypt. So they approached the problem from another angle. If you couldn’t make the codes fast and secure, then use a different underlying language. Enter the Navajo, a people with a language virtually unknown outside of the United States.
It was effective. The Japanese never broke the Najavo code language and that cost them dearly at places like Iwo Jima. After the war, the entire program was kept classified since it had been so effective and could be used again. The program stayed classified until 1968 but the efforts of the Navajo during the war was a story that didn’t get spread as far as it could have. And should have, frankly. Indeed, the first many people heard of this was when the Nicholas Cage movie “Windtalkers” came out in 2002.
Now, with their numbers dwindling, the surviving Code Talkers are concerned that their story will fade in the haze of lost history when they are gone. They are making an effort at getting the word out and, as part of that, they are participating in the New York City Veterans Day parade. There will be 13 of the 50 or so surviving Talkers present.
I am extremely glad to see this and I hope their participation, both in the parade and in the war, gets the attention it deserves. Without these men and their efforts in the war, things could very easily have turned out much worse. Take the time to read the story and then go for a Google spin to get more detail. It’s a story worth knowing.