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April 2003-Snow Owl

This article is dedicated to my Brother, Spotted Wolf.

    To say that Native Americans have fought for “their” Country would be an error of simplification. For they have always fought both and died for “their” Country, and “this” Country; from the days that it was indeed “their” country, and “this” Country had yet to exist. And, in one way or another have continued to do so down through the passage of years and too many wars and battles to think of.

    It won’t happen, but it would be nice, if in this seeming newborn age of Patriotism, that Native Americans would be remembered and honored for the sacrifice and definite contributions they have made to the causes of the United States of America. 

    It should never be forgotten that the role the Native American played in World War II, that is to say “Code Talker” or “Wind Talker”, can be arguably said to have prevented this war from ending in a far different end result.

    Churchill and England had their pilots to whom so many owed so much to so few; as far as I am concerned, Roosevelt and American had their Native Americans. 
     – Snow Owl

Jimmy King, a Navajo instructor, translated the Marine Hymn into Navajo:
We have conquered our enemies Nin hokeh bi-kheh a-na-ih-la
All over the world  Ta-al-tso-go na-he-seel-kai
On land and on sea Nih-bi-kah-gi do tah kah-gi
Everywhere we fight Ta-al-tso-go en-da-de-pah
True and loyal to our duty Tsi-di-da-an-ne ne-tay-yah
We are known by that Ay be nihe hozeen
United States Marines Washindon be Akalh Bi-kosi-la
To be one is a great thing. Ji-lengo ba-hozhon
Our flag waves  Ni-he da-na-ah-taj ihla
From dawn to setting sun.  Yel khol-go e-e-ah
We have fought every place Day-ne tal-al-tso go enta-she-jah
Where we could take a gun  Tal-tso-go entas-se-pah
From northern lands  Ha-kaz dineh-ih be-hay-jah
To southern tropic scenes, Ado ta aokhek-ash-shen
We are known to be tireless Do ni-din-da-hi ol-yeh
The United States Marines Washindon be Akalh-bi Khos

Navajo Code Talkers: World War II Fact Sheet

Research by Alexander Molnar Jr., U.S. Marine Corps/U.S. Army (Ret.)
Prepared by the Navy & Marine Corps WWII Commemorative Committee

Related resources:
American Indian Medal of Honor Winners
Navajo Code Talkers in World War II: A Bibliography
Navajo Code Talker Dictionary

Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima: the Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units, transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language -- a code that the Japanese never broke. 

The idea to use Navajo for secure communications came from Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos and one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently. Johnston, reared on the Navajo reservation, was a World War I veteran who knew of the military's search for a code that would withstand all attempts to decipher it. He also knew that Native American languages--notably Choctaw--had been used in World War I to encode messages. 

Johnston believed Navajo answered the military requirement for an undecipherable code because Navajo is an unwritten language of extreme complexity. Its syntax and tonal qualities, not to mention dialects, make it unintelligible to anyone without extensive exposure and training. It has no alphabet or symbols, and is spoken only on the Navajo lands of the American Southwest. One estimate indicates that less than 30 non-Navajos, none of them Japanese, could understand the language at the outbreak of World War II. 

Early in 1942, Johnston met with Major General Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding general of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, and his staff to convince them of the Navajo language's value as code. Johnston staged tests under simulated combat conditions, demonstrating that Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds. Machines of the time required 30 minutes to perform the same job. Convinced, Vogel recommended to the Commandant of the Marine Corps that the Marines recruit 200 Navajos. 

In May 1942, the first 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp. Then, at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California, this first group created the Navajo code. They developed a dictionary and numerous words for military terms. The dictionary and all code words had to be memorized during training. 

Once a Navajo code talker completed his training, he was sent to a Marine unit deployed in the Pacific theater. The code talkers' primary job was to talk, transmitting information on tactics and troop movements, orders and other vital battlefield communications over telephones and radios. They also acted as messengers, and performed general Marine duties. 

Praise for their skill, speed and accuracy accrued throughout the war. At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima." Connor had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. Those six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error. The Japanese, who were skilled code breakers, remained baffled by the Navajo language. The Japanese chief of intelligence, Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue, said that while they were able to decipher the codes used by the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps, they never cracked the code used by the Marines. 

The Navajo code talkers even stymied a Navajo soldier taken prisoner at Bataan. (About 20 Navajos served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines.) The Navajo soldier, forced to listen to the jumbled words of talker transmissions, said to a code talker after the war, "I never figured out what you guys who got me into all that trouble were saying." 

In 1942, there were about 50,000 Navajo tribe members. As of 1945, about 540 Navajos served as Marines. From 375 to 420 of those trained as code talkers; the rest served in other capacities. 

Navajo remained potentially valuable as code even after the war. For that reason, the code talkers, whose skill and courage saved both American lives and military engagements, only recently earned recognition from the Government and the public.

Somewhere in Bouganville at work; photo – US Mint
The Medal

"Awarding these medals will give our nation a chance to bestow an honor that is long overdue and to formally thank these brave men for their contributions." - Senator Jeff Bingaman

    If their achievements had been hailed at the conclusion of the war, proper honors would have been bestowed upon the Navajo Code Talkers at that time. But the Code Talkers were sworn to secrecy, an oath they kept and honored, but at the same time, one that robbed them of the very accolades and place in history they deserved. The secrecy surrounding the code was maintained until it was declassified in 1968. Only then did a realization of the sacrifice and valor of these brave Native Americans emerge.

    In April 2000, I introduced legislation to authorize the President of the United States to award a gold medal, on behalf of the Congress, to each of the original twenty-nine Navajo Code Talkers, as well as a silver medal to each man who later qualified as a Navajo Code Talker (MOS 642). The bill was signed law on December 21, 2000.

    Of all the honors Congress can bestow, the awarding of a Congressional Gold or Silver Medal is often considered the most distinguished.

    Each medal is specifically designed for the recipient, with the Secretary of the Treasury as the final judge of the design. After that, the design is sculptured, a dye is made, and the medal is struck at the Philadelphia Mint. 

    These medals are to express recognition by the United States of America and its citizens of the Navajo Code Talkers, to salute these brave and innovative Native Americans, to acknowledge the great contribution they made to the nation at a time of war, and to finally give them their rightful place in history.


Harry Benally: 1925 - 2000
Haashkei Yitahdeeswod -- An Experienced and Great Valiant Leader
Ta'néészahnii -- Badlands People 

"I was drafted. When I finished boot camp, I was told they had a special job for me. I didn't know what it could be, but soon found out it was as a code talker." 

Diné Name : Haashkei Yitahdeeswod (An Experienced and Great Valiant Leader) 
Clan : Ta'néészahnii Tódích'íi'nii (Navajo)
Ta'néészahnii (Badlands People) blood from mom Hastiin Lapahie Bitsi.
Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan) blood from dad Benalitsoh. 
Born : Approximated on August 3, 1925
One mile west of former Tocito Store, Tosido, New Mexico 
Schooling : Shiprock Camp School, 1936
Southern Ute Indian School, 1937-1943
Fort Wingate Vocational High School, 1943, 1946-1949
National School of Auto and Diesel College, Nashville TN
Certificate Auto & Diesel Mechanic, 9/49 - 1/50 
Service : U.S. Marines, as a Navajo Code Talker 
Service Number: 894507USMCR 
1st Marine Division, 1/13/1944-5/4/1946 
Boot Camp, 1/1944 - 4/1944 
Harry went home to Littlewater during the 10 day furlow. 
Code Talker School, Radio School and Communication, 
Camp Pendelton, 4/1944 - 9/1944 
Combat Maneuver, San Diego, 10/1944 
Moved into the Pacific, passed by Hawaii, 11/1944 
Combat Maneuvers, Russell Islands 
Guadalcanal and Pavuvu, 1/1945 
Banika, Ulithi and Yap, 2/1945 
Moved toward Okinawa, 3/1945 
Okinawa and Ryukyu Islands, 4/1/1945 - 8/1945 
China Occupation, 8/1945 - 4/13/1946 
Heading home across the Pacific, two weeks 
Discharged, 5/4/1946 
Harry Benally with former Navaho Nation President, Honorable Peter MacDonald. 1987 inauguration of Window Rock, AZ as capitol of Navaho nation. 
U.S. Silver Congressional Medal of Honor, 11/24/01
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal
China Occupation, Service
WWII Victory, 1/7/1948 through American Post #86
American Defense
Unit Citation
Good Conduct Medal
Joe Morris, Sr., a full-blooded Navajo. Served from 1944- 46 as a code talker on Guadalcanal, Guam, Saipan, Okinawa, and Tinstao, China.
The Navajo Code Talker's Dictionary
    When a Navajo code talker received a message, what he heard was a string of seemingly unrelated Navajo words. The code talker first had to translate each Navajo word into its English equivalent. Then he used only the first letter of the English equivalent in spelling an English word. Thus, the Navajo words "wol-la-chee" (ant), "be-la-sana" (apple) and "tse-nill" (axe) all stood for the letter "a." One way to say the word "Navy" in Navajo code would be "tsah (needle) wol-la-chee (ant) ah-keh-di- glini (victor) tsah-ah-dzoh (yucca)." 

    Most letters had more than one Navajo word representing them. Not all words had to be spelled out letter by letter. The developers of the original code assigned Navajo words to represent about 450 frequently used military terms that did not exist in the Navajo language. Several examples: "besh- lo" (iron fish) meant "submarine," "dah-he- tih-hi" (hummingbird) meant "fighter plane" and "debeh-li-zine" (black street) meant "squad." 
Department of Defense Honors Navajo Veterans
     Long unrecognized because of the continued value of their language as a security classified code, the Navajo code talkers of World War II were honored for their contributions to defense on Sept. 17, 1992, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 
Thirty-five code talkers, all veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps, attended the dedication of the Navajo code talker exhibit. The exhibit includes a display of photographs, equipment and the original code, along with an explanation of how the code worked. 

    Dedication ceremonies included speeches by the then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Atwood, U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona and Navajo President Peterson Zah. The Navajo veterans and their families traveled to the ceremony from their homes on the Navajo Reservation, which includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. 

    The Navajo code talker exhibit is a regular stop on the Pentagon tour. 

---12 August 1997 

Typed Memo from Colonel Bloor, 1919
[Page 1] [Page 2] 
From Bishinik, The Official Publication of the Choctaw Nation, August 1986.

   In the closing days of World War I, eight Choctaws were instrumental in helping the American Expeditionary Force to win several key battles in the Mousse-Argonne campaign, which proved to be the final big German push of that war, as "code talkers."

    Of the eight Choctaws involved, one was from Bryan County, one from Choctaw County and six from McCurtain County. 

    They included: Solomon Lewis, Bennington Mitchell Bobb, Smithville Ben Carterby (Bismark), Wright City Robert Taylor, Bokchito or Boswell Jeff Nelson, Kullitukle Pete Maytubby, Broken Bow James Edwards, Ida (now Battiest) Calvin Wilson, Goodwater 

    The German code experts were "flipping their wigs" trying to break the new American code.

    Within 24 hours after the Choctaw language was pressed into service, the tide of the battle had turned, and in less than 72 hours the Germans were retreating and the Allies were on full attack.

     Since this occurrence was so near the end of the war, the Choctaw Code Talkers were apparently used in only this one campaign.

     They were praised by the company commanders and battalion commander, who told the eight Choctaws that he was "putting them in for medals." (The medals were never received.)

      Most of the information in this report was told to Len Green in 1979 by Solomon Lewis. He said at that time he was the only Choctaw Code Talker still living.

L to R: Jim Lane, John Rope and Kassay in Yuma, AZ 1942.

Charles Chibitty and Earnest Childers, 
1st Native American Medal of Honor winner. 

    Chibitty was born near Medicine Park, Okla. on Nov. 20, 1921. After attending Haskell Indian School at Lawrence, Kan., he enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1941. While in the Army, Cpl. Chibitty earned the World War II Victory Medal, the European Theater of Operations (5th Bronze Star) Victory Medal, the Europe African Middle East Campaign Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. In addition to his role as a Code Talker, Chibitty was a champion boxer in the Army.

    In 1989, the French Government honored the Comanche Code Talkers, including Chibitty, by presenting them the "Chevalier of the National Order of Merit." In 1992, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney presented Chibitty a certificate of appreciation for his service to the country. Chibitty has also received a special proclamation from the Governor of Oklahoma who honored him for his contribution both to Oklahoma and the United States. Nationally known for his Indian championship dancing, he currently resides in Tulsa, Okla.

**Charles Chibitty, the last surviving Comanche Code Talker Died July 20, 2005.


There is some head scratching between the article above and the one below. According to the caption of the above picture, Charles Chibitty was the first Native American Medal of Honor Awardee. However, in the document below, he is not listed. It could mean that Chibitty was the first to receive the medal referred to by Senator Bingham, in an earlier section of this article. “In April 2000, I introduced legislation to authorize the President of the United States to award a gold medal, on behalf of the Congress, to each of the original twenty-nine Navajo Code Talkers, as well as a silver medal to each man who later qualified as a Navajo Code Talker (MOS 642). The bill was signed law on December 21, 2000.” Or, it could be that the Government Records Bureau messed up again, which if any reader is a veteran knows as being far more than entirely possible! - Snow Owl

WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060
American Indian Medal of Honor Winners
    In the 20th century, five American Indians have been among those soldiers to be distinguished by receiving the United States' highest military honor: the Medal of Honor. Given for military heroism "above and beyond the call of duty," these warriors exhibited extraordinary bravery in the face of the enemy and, in two cases, made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. 

Jack C. Montgomery. A Cherokee from Oklahoma, and a First Lieutenant with the 45th Infantry Division Thunderbirds. On 22 February 1944, near Padiglione, Italy, Montgomery's rifle platoon was under fire by three echelons of enemy forces, when he single-handedly attacked all three positions, taking prisoners in the process. As a result of his courage, Montgomery's actions demoralized the enemy and inspired his men to defeat the Axis troops.

Ernest Childers. A Creek from Oklahoma, and a First Lieutenant with the 45th Infantry Division. Childers received the Medal of Honor for heroic action in 1943 when, up against machine gun fire, he and eight men charged the enemy. Although suffering a broken foot in the assault, Childers ordered covering fire and advanced up the hill, single-handedly killing two snipers, silencing two machine gun nests, and capturing an enemy mortar observer.

Van Barfoot. A Choctaw from Mississippi, and a Second Lieutenant in the Thunderbirds. On 23 May 1944, during the breakout from Anzio to Rome, Barfoot knocked out two machine gun nests and captured 17 German soldiers. Later that same day, he repelled a German tank assault, destroyed a Nazi fieldpiece and while returning to camp carried two wounded commanders to safety.

Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. A Winnebago from Wisconsin, and a Corporal in Company E., 19th Infantry Regiment in Korea. On 5 November 1950, Red Cloud was on a ridge guarding his company command post when he was surprised by Chinese communist forces. He sounded the alarm and stayed in his position firing his automatic rifle and point-blank to check the assault. This gave his company time to consolidate their defenses. After being severely wounded by enemy fire, he refused assistance and continued firing upon the enemy until he was fatally wounded. His heroic action prevented the enemy from overrunning his company's position and gained time for evacuation of the wounded.

Charles George. A Cherokee from North Carolina, and Private First Class in Korea when he was killed on 30 November 1952. During battle, George threw himself upon a grenade and smothered it with his body. In doing so, he sacrificed his own life but saved the lives of his comrades. For this brave and selfless act, George was posthumously award the Medal of Honor in 1954.

Radio Operators; photo – US Mint
Navajo Code Talkers' Dictionary-REVISED AS OF 15 JUNE 1945

Oliver Lloyd; photo: US Mint
Navajo Code Talkers: A Select Bibliography
Related Resources:

Native Americans in the U.S. Military
Navajo Code Talker Fact Sheet
Navajo Code Talker Dictionary

Bernstein, Alison R. American Indians and World War II: Toward a New Era in Indian Affairs Norman , OK : University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.

Bixler, Margaret T. Winds of Freedom: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. Darien , CT : Two Bytes Pub. Co. , 1992.

"Comanches Again Called for Army Code Service." New York Times ( 13 Dec. 1940 ): 16.

Davis, Goode, Jr. "Proud Tradition of the Marines' Navajo Code Talkers: They Fought With Words-Words No Japanese Could Fathom." Marine Corps League 46, no.1 (Spring 1990): 16-26.

"DOD Hails Indian Code Talkers." Sea Services Weekly ( 27 Nov. 1992 ): 9-10.

Donovan, Bill. "Navajo Code Talkers Made History Without Knowing It." Arizona Republic ( 14 Aug. 1992 ): B6.

Franco, Jere Bishop. Crossing the Pond: The Native American Effort in World War II. Denton TX : University of North Texas Press, 1999. [contains an extremely useful bibliography of published and unpublished sources.]

Hafford, William E. "The Navajo Code Talkers." Arizona Highways 65, no.2 (Feb. 1989): 36-45.

Hirschfelder, Arlene and Martha Kreipe de Montano. The Native American Almanac: A Portrait of Native America Today. New York : Prentice Hall, 1993. OCLC 27813313. [See pp. 227-36, "Native American and Military Service," which includes some statistics on participation in 20th Century Wars; a list of Medal of Honor winners; short histories of Navajo, Comanche, and Choctaw code talkers; a brief bibliography of literature concerning veterans; and an extrememly incomplete list of Navy ships named for Native American people, tribes, place names, and other words from Indian languages.]

Kahn, David. The Codebreakers. New York : Macmillan, 1967.
See pp. 549-50.

Kawano, Kenji. Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers. Flagstaff , AZ : Northland Pub. Co. , 1990.

King, Jodi A. "DOD Dedicates Code Talkers Display" Pentagram ( 24 Sep. 1992 ): 3.

Langille, Vernon . "Indian War Call." Leatherneck 31, No.3 (Mar.1948): 37-40.

Marder, Murrey. "Navajo Code Talkers." Marine Corps Gazette (Sep. 1945): 10-11.

Marine Corps University Libraries. Navajo Code Talkers FAQ

McCoy, Ron. "Navajo Code Talkers of World War II: Indian Marines Befuddled the Enemy." American West 18, no.6 (Nov./Dec. 1981): 67-73, 75.

National Archives, People at War, New Roles: The Codetalkers. [Letter from Philip Johnson which convinced the Commandant of teh Mrine Corps to employ Navajo Indians as radiomen to provide secure communications.]

Paul, Doris Atkinson. The Navajo Code Talkers. Philadelphia : Dorance, 1973.

"Pentagon Ceremony Praises American Indians." Crosswind (13 Nov.1992): 14-15.

"Pentagon Honors Navajos, Code Nobody Could Break." Arizona Republic ( 18 Sep. 1992 ): A9.

Thomas, Robert McG. Jr. "Carl Gorman, Code Talker in World War II, Dies at 90," New York Times ( 1 Feb. 1998 ): 27.

USMC. Navajo Dictionary. 15 June 1945 . (Code word dictionary).

Watson, Bruce. "Navajo Code Talkers: A Few Good Men." Smithsonian 24, no.5 (Aug. 1993): 34-40, 42-43.

Unpublished Sources:

Item in The Navy Department Library Vertical File

Reference Section, History and Museums Division, HQMC. "Navajo Code Talkers in World War II." 14 May 1982. 2 pp.

Archival Records Relating to Navajo Code Talker, World War II

Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington Navy Yard, Washington DC . 20374-0580. Tel.(202)433-3841.

Oral interviews with former Navajo code talkers during the first reunion of Navajo Code Talkers of World War II at Window Rock AZ, 9-10 July 1971.

Marine Corps Oral History Program:
John Benally, 32 pp; Judge W. Dean Wilson (William Dean Yazzie), 20 pp; Paul Blatchford, 27 pp; Sidney Bedoni, 13 pp; Alex Williams, Sr., 21 pp; Carl Gorman, 3 pp; Wilfred Billey, 13 pp, Jimmy King, Sr.,36 pp.

National Archives and Records Administration ( NARA ):

Textual Reference Branch, 8601 Adelphi Road , College Park , MD 20740 .

RG 127. Entry 18. Office of the Commandant-General Correspondence (Jan. 1939-Jun. 1950):
File #1535-75, folders: 13-14, 17-20.
File #2185-20, folder 4.

RG 457. Utilization of American Indians as Communications Linguists. Special Research History (SRH) #120, 107 pp.
31 December 2001



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