It was a top secret for 26 years. During WWII, about 16 million Americans served and are honored throughout each year as members of the Greatest Generation.
Among these veterans are a group of 300 Marines who are credited with saving thousands of lives in Iwo Jima and other Pacific Island battles, but, until recently, their actions were top secret.
The members of the all-Navajo 382nd Marine Platoon have lately been celebrated in movies, television and many articles. The platoon began with 29 men who developed the cypher that baffled the enemy.
The Navajo language was perfect for the code since it had tonal qualities that were difficult for non-native speakers to distinguish, and because there was not a large written record of the language.
The code talkers worked under great pressure to create a cypher and dictionary of signals in their language, a code so unique it could safely transmit vital information about troop movements and field operations over radio and telephone.
They delivered over 800 messages without error and were later credited for accelerating the date of V-J Day, but they were sworn to silence. They returned to their homes after the war and were not allowed to discuss what they had worked on.
Finally, in 1968, their mission was unclassified. The Navajo nation was as surprised and proud as the rest of the country when they learned of the huge contribution these veterans had made. The code remains the only unbreakable convention in modern military history.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed August 14 as National Navajo Code Talkers Day. In 1992, 35 Navajo Code Talker veterans were honored at the Pentagon during the dedication of an exhibit that includes field equipment, radios, photographs and explanations of how the code worked.
Chester Nez, the last of the original 29 code talkers, died in June 2014 at the age of 93.’
Photograph of Navajo Code Talkers Henry Bake and George Kirk, 12/1943 [National Archives Identifier: 593415]