Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, joined with city representatives and families, to honor Navajo (Diné) Code Talkers at the Albuquerque Wall of Fame last Friday. They were often punished for speaking their native Navajo in school, but when the Marines came calling in World War II to use their complex language as a code, they quickly responded. It’s how the Navajo Code Talkers helped the United States defeat Japan.
It’s why the Navajo (Diné) Code Talkers are the sixth-ever inductees into Albuquerque’s Wall of Fame at the Alvarado Transportation Center in Downtown Albuquerque (Diné is the Navajo word for their tribe, which means “the people”). They embody the spirit of unsung heroes that is the hallmark of previous Wall of Fame inductees, all the while accomplishing their work under difficult and often deadly circumstances.
“The Code Talkers used their complex and unwritten language to craft a code so indecipherable, it was never broken by the enemy,” stated Mayor Keller. “But their achievements went unnoticed until they were finally declassified in 1968. Since then, the Navajo Code Talkers have brought positive, worldwide attention to New México and the Southwest. Their outstanding achievements no longer fly under the radar.”
Mayor Keller will also welcomed a special guest, 95-year-old Code Talker Joe Vandever, Sr. of Haystack, New México. Vandever is one of seven living Code Talkers who faced heavy fighting in the Pacific during World War Two.
The first 29 Navajo recruits formed the code at Camp Pendleton, California in 1942. They memorized a codebook with more than 200 words for military terms that would’ve baffled even accomplished Navajo speakers. At a time when machines took 30 minutes to encode, transmit and decode three lines in English, Code Talkers could do it in 20 seconds.
The Navajo Code Talkers were praised for their speed and accuracy in relaying tactics, troop movements and orders under great risk in key battles such as Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Saipan and Okinawa. At Iwo Jima, six code talkers worked around the clock sending and receiving over 800 messages without error. Many agree the Marines might never have taken Iwo Jima without the Navajo Code Talkers. About 200 more Navajos were trained in the program, which finally ended early in the Vietnam War.
Even after 1968, the Code Talkers’ role in América’s victory still wasn’t widely publicized. It wasn’t until President Reagan recognized them in 1982 that they finally got well-deserved recognition. President Clinton awarded them all the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2001.
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