Wind Talkers: Navajo Code Talkers in WWII - MEET the NAVAJO CODE TALKERS

Carl Nelson Gorman - Original Navajo Code Talker (Illustration) World War II American History Biographies Native-Americans and First Peoples

Carl Nelson Gorman was one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers. In this photo—taken on the 27th of June, 1944—we see Gorman tracking enemy movements on the island of Saipan. Photo, online via the U.S. National Archives.


Marine drill sergeants are proud of the methods they use to whip recruits into shape. Deprivation (of modern comforts and conveniences) is a trademark control device.

The Navajo recruits, however, were unlike their counterparts. They were already used to deprivation. Many lived in rural log cabins, or hogans, and could survive for days at a time without food. It was nearly impossible for the drill sergeants to “get to” the Navajos.

Philip Johnston, a 40-year-old civilian who knew the Navajo language, wanted to be involved in the Code Talker program as an instructor.  He sent a letter asking to become a Marine. His wish was granted, and he was sworn in as a USMC Staff Sgt.

Finished with their basic training, in 1942, Code Talkers were sent to Guadalcanal to participate in a major Allied offensive.  Two other Code Talkers remained at Camp Elliott to teach the next batch of Navajo recruits. 

The objective of the battle for Guadalcanal was to capture that island before the Japanese could finish building an air strip on it.  Hostilities began, in the Pacific, during August of 1942, when the First Marines (including men like Robert Leckie and Sid Phillips) began to implement "Operation Watchtower" (code name for the Guadalcanal Campaign).  

Called Henderson Field, after the Marines captured it, the air strip was key to both sides.  The Japanese wanted it so their planes had a base from which to disrupt Allied shipments to Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific locations.  The Allies needed the airfield to prevent that from happening. 
Marines, like Sgt. John Basilone (who won the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism, then was sent home to sell war bonds), helped to keep the airfield in Allied hands.

When the first Code Talkers were sent into combat, at Guadalcanal, how were they received? The Americans thought they were listening to a Japanese exchange:

I called the 7th Marines and before we finished talking, the radio was buzzing, the telephone was ringing, and then runners came to say that the Japs were talking on our frequency and that they had taken over everything... (Navajo Code Talkers, by Nathan Aaseng, page 32)

When the officer-in-charge figured out it was the Navajos speaking to each other, he gave them a chance to compete against another code breaker.  Aaseng continues the story:

Then the colonel had an idea. He said he would keep us on one condition: that I could out-race his “white code” - a cylinder-thing that you set a coded message on and send by radio...tick, tick, tick. Then the receiver signals he has received the message and gives the roger on it.

We both sent messages - with the white cylinder and by voice. Both of us received answers. The race was to see who could decode his answer first. He said, “Are you ready?” I said, “I’ve started already.”

“How long will it take you?” I was asked. “Two hours?” “Two hours?! I can get ready in two minutes...and give you a head start,” I answered.

How long did it actually take for this new Code Talker to accurately receive and translate his message?

I got the roger on my return message from four units in about four and a half minutes. The other guy was still decoding when I said, “Colonel, when are you going to give up that signal outfit? The Navajos are more efficient.” (Aaseng, Navajo Code Talkers, page 32)

Not only were the Navajos more efficient, they were fast-becoming indispensable as they used their code in other Pacific battles.  At Cape Gloucester, located at the northwest end of New Britain island (in the Bismarck Archipelago), the 1st Marines fought to capture (then secure) another Japanese airfield.  

Engaging the enemy amidst torrential rain, and at great personal hardship, the Marines accomplished their mission at Cape Gloucester.  The price of that battle, however, was exceedingly high. Within days, Marine casualties included 310 killed and 1,083 wounded.

As the island-hopping battles continued, in the Pacific, the Navajo Code Talkers were among the first to land on the beach when the Marines arrived at Saipan, in 1944.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Jul 02, 2018

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"MEET the NAVAJO CODE TALKERS" AwesomeStories.com. Jun 01, 2002. May 30, 2020.
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