Many tribes were involved in the War of 1812, and Indians fought for both sides as auxiliary troops in the Civil War. Scouting the enemy was recognized as a particular skill of the Native American soldier. In 1866, the U.S. Army established its Indian Scouts to exploit this aptitude. The Scouts were active in the American West in the late 1800s and early 1900s, accompanying Gen. John J. Pershing's expedition to Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1916. They were deactivated in 1947 when their last member retired from the Army in ceremonies at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona. Native Americans from Indian Territory were also recruited by Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and saw action in Cuba in the Spanish-American War in 1898. As the military entered the 20th century, American Indians had already made a substantial contribution through military service and were on the brink of playing an even larger role. Contributions In Combat It is estimated that more than 12,000 American Indians served in the United States military in World War I. Approximately 600 Oklahoma Indians, mostly Chotaw and Cherokee, were assigned to the 142nd Infantry of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division. The 142nd saw action in France and its soldiers were widely recognized for their contributions in battle. Four men from this unit were awarded the Croix de Guerre, while others received the Church War Cross for gallantry. The outbreak of World War II brought American Indians warriors back to the battlefield in defense of their homeland. Although now eligible for the draft by virtue of the Snyder Act, which gave citizenship to American Indians in 1924, conscription alone does not account for the disproportionate number of Indians who joined the armed services. More than 44,000 American Indians, out of a total Native American population of less than 350,000, served with distinction between 1941 and 1945 in both European and Pacific theaters of war. Native American men and women on the home front also showed an intense desire to serve their country, and were an integral part of the war effort. More than 40,000 Indian people left their reservations to work in ordnance depots, factories, and other war industries. American Indians also invested more than $50 million in war bonds, and contributed generously to the Red Cross and the Army and Navy Relief societies. Battle-experienced American Indian troops from World War II were joined by newly recruited Native Americans to fight Communist aggression during the Korean conflict. The Native American's strong sense of patriotism and courage emerged once again during the Vietnam era. More than 42,000 Native Americans, more than 90 percent of them volunteers, fought in Vietnam. Native American contributions in United States military combat continued in the 1980s and 1990s as they saw duty in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, and the Persian Gulf. Native Americans As Warriors As the 20th century comes to a close, there are nearly 190,00 Native American military veterans. It is well recognized that, historically, Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups. The reasons behind this disproportionate contribution are complex and deeply rooted in traditional American Indian culture. In many respects, Native Americans are no different from others who volunteer for military service. They do, however, have distinctive cultural values which drive them to serve their country. One such value is their proud warrior tradition. In part, the warrior tradition is a willingness to engage the enemy in battle. This characteristic has been clearly demonstrated by the courageous deeds of Native Americans in combat. However, the warrior tradition is best exemplified by the following qualities said to be inherent to most if not all Native American societies: strength, honor, pride, devotion, and wisdom. These qualities make a perfect fit with military tradition. Strength To be an American Indian warrior is to have physical, mental, and spiritual strength. A warrior must be prepared to overpower the enemy and face death head-on.
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.
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 extremely incomplete list of Navy ships named for Native American people, tribes, place names, and other words from Indian languages.]
Jere, Franco. Patriotism on Trial: Native Americans in World War II. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1990.
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.
Congressional Medal of Honor - Native American Code Talkers
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
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. 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. THE MARINE HYMN