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From the Archives: Veterans honored on Navajo Code Talkers Day
San Diego Union-Tribune - 8/14/2022
National Navajo Code Talkers Day is today, Aug. 14.
President Ronald Reagan established the holiday in 1982 to honor the contributions of Native Americans in the United States armed forces.
The Navajo Code Talkers were members of a special communications unit in the Marine Corps who transmitted messages in World War II using a code based on their native language, confounding the eavesdropping Japanese army.
Navajo recruits went through boot camp at the San DiegoMarine Corps Recruit Depot and were assigned to a special unit at Camp Pendleton.
The Navajo Code Talkers, using a code that was never broken, are credited with helping the United States win many key battles in the Pacific during World War II, including the Battle of Iwo Jima.
For many years the role that the Code Talkers in the war played was kept secret.
In 1975, at a reunion for Navajo veterans at Camp Pendleton, Thomas Begay and Roan Horse Crawford spoke to the Evening Tribune, about the code language and their wartime service.
From the Evening Tribune, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1975:
NAVAJO WAR VETS MEET
Tough code easy as ABC
By Robert Dietrich, Tribune Military Writer
CAMP PENDLETON — Ant. Bear. Cat.
Those were the uncomplicated ABCs of the toughest secret code ever developed.
It formed part of the basis for the Navajo Indian code used by the Marine corps in World War II to frustrate English-speaking Japanese radio eavesdroppers.
"It was a code within a code," said former Cpl. Thomas Begay, "we used our own terms for military people and equipment."
Begay, now 47, was here with 19 fellow Navy Navajo code-talkers for a reunion at the Leatherneck base where they received their final training.
"A mortar, for example was called, a 'gun that squats,' and our word for congressman was called 'got words,' "
Ant, bear and cat in Leatherneck Navajo are "Wol-la-chee," "Shush," "and Moasi."
Unlike the sophisticated codes developed by the World War II Germans and Japanese, the Navajo code survived the best attempts to break it.
"Allied code experts tried to crack it to see how good it was," Begay said. "They failed."
The code had a vocabulary of 411 alphabet words, numerals and description words.
"We had some special words—the four-letter kind that we kept secret from officers," Begay said, grinning.
By the end of the war, the Marines had recruited and trained more than 400 Navajo code-talkers. They suffered a casualty rate of nearly 50 per cent.
Not one was taken prisoner by the Japanese.
One was captured twice by the U.S. Army, however.
Former Pfc. Eugene Roan Horse Crawford, now 62, was placed under arrest by a GI on the Island of New Georgia on suspicion of being a Japanese spy.
"I ad a 45-calier pistol pressed into my back and I was sweating and shaking. One of the Army interrogators said, ' I think we've got a prize Jap from Ohio State.' "
Crawford was released after the soldiers contacted a Marine unit with a code-talker who gave Crawford a clean bill of health by saying "Yai ta Hey!" (hello, buddy).
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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