Code Talkers: The Subset of American Indian Soldiers Who Played a Key Intelligence Role in WWII

Corporal Henry Bake, Jr. and Private First Class George H. Kirk fought bravely alongside one another during World War II. They were bound together by shared service to their country, and by their shared Navajo heritage.

Stories like theirs are not uncommon. In fact, during World War II—when the total American Indian population was less than 350,000—approximately 44,000 Indian men and women served in the U.S. military. Of the thousands of American Indians who served, Corporal Henry Bake, Jr. and Private First Class George H. Kirk belonged to a very specialized group of servicemen and women: The "Code Talkers."

The Marine Corps actively recruited Navajo Code Talkers to translate and decode secret messages during World War II. The idea came from World War I veteran Philip Johnston, who—while not an American Indian—had grown up on a Navajo reservation. The Marine Corps were so impressed by his proposal that in 1942, they recruited 29 Navajos within a two-week span to craft a secret code.

Some were enlisted. Others were drafted. All told, over 400 Navajos went on to become Code Talkers. In many instances, they used their tribal languages to send simple messages over the radio, such as "send more ammunition to the front." However, more sensitive transmissions required greater security. From the original 29 Navajo recruits came the Type One Code, in which the Code Talkers selected Navajo words for each letter of the English Alphabet and memorized them. Moasi, meaning "cat," signified the letter C, for example. Using wire and radio equipment—which they lugged on their backs—they provided vital support against the Axis Powers during World War II.

Code Talkers saw battle in each of the war's major theaters. They helped dismantle Japan's grip on the Pacific. When Allied forces stormed the beaches at Normandy, they were there too. It's no secret: the skills and valor of Navajo Code Talkers won battles and saved lives.

Want to create your own hidden messages? Click here to see the Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary.

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