World War II
Warriors and Heroes - How Forbidden Languages Helped Win a War

Warriors and Heroes - How Forbidden Languages Helped Win a War
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   8.57

     challenging words:    ah-jad, desperation, dibeh, entirety, non-Navajos, over-age, tkin, tse-nil, domination, tactical, cryptologists, unbreakable, irony, inherent, pointed, translation
     content words:    President George W., Second World War, Iwo Jima, Code Talkers, Albert Smith, President Bush, Ceremony Honoring Navajo Code Talkers, Phillip Johnson, Marine Corps, Navajo Marines

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Warriors and Heroes - How Forbidden Languages Helped Win a War
By Toni Lee Robinson

1     In July 2001, President George W. Bush honored a special group of warriors. He said:
2     "Today we mark a moment of shared history... We recall a story that all Americans can celebrate, and every American should know. It is a story of an ancient people called to serve in a modern war. It is a story of one unbreakable oral code of the Second World War, messages traveling by field radio on Iwo Jima in the very language heard across the Colorado plateau centuries ago.
3     Above all, it's a story of young Navajos who brought honor to their nation and victory to their country. Some of the Code Talkers were very young, like Albert Smith, who joined the Marines at 15. In order to enlist, he said, "I had to advance my age a little bit." At least one code talker was over-age, so he claimed to be younger in order to serve ...By war's end, some 400 Navajos had served as Code Talkers. Thirteen were killed in action, and their names, too, are on today's roll of honor."
4     (President Bush, Ceremony Honoring Navajo Code Talkers, July 26, 2001)

5     The idea of Navajo code talkers was advanced by Phillip Johnson, the son of missionaries who had served among the Navajo. Johnson was one of the few non-Navajos who knew the fluid, complex language. Navajo had no written component, making it all the more secure for wartime communications. U.S. commanders liked the idea of Navajo soldiers in the field, relaying sensitive information in their native language.
6     The Marine Corps began recruiting Navajo soldiers. The recruits trained as Marines and then received special training in communications. This included the development of a Navajo code. Messages were coded letter by letter into Navajo words. A listener, even one who knew Navajo, heard only streams of words. The English translation of the words would yield letters to spell out the message. For example, the words "dibeh" (sheep), "tse-nil" (axe), "tkin" (ice), "ah-jad" (leg) could be decoded to spell the word "sail."
7     Later, words were substituted for words, especially military terms and names. "Fighter plane," for instance, was "dah-he-tih-hi" (hummingbird). A dictionary of the code was written out and memorized in its entirety by the code talkers. No written record of the code was taken from the training. In fact, the dictionary was not declassified by the government until 1968. As the president pointed out, the Navajo code was never broken.
8     There are many testimonies to the skill and valor of the Navajo units. They fulfilled their code duties with speed and accuracy, giving U.S. troops a decisive edge in important battles. When not on radio duty, the Navajo soldiers fought as regular Marines.

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