Navajo Code Talkers at Marine aviation museum.

Photo of Samuel Tsosie Sr., Navajo Code Talker during World War II.
Photo of Samuel Tsosie Sr., Navajo Code Talker during World War II.

A small but fascinating exhibit remembering the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II is currently on display at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum in San Diego. The exhibition, titled CELEBRATING 75 YEARS – CODE TALKERS: THE NAVAJO WEAPON, contains photos, documents, uniforms and historical artifacts that describe how the Navajo language was used to develop a code for secret tactical communication in the Pacific, in places like Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The Navajo code, which was classified until 1968, is the only spoken military code that was never deciphered.

The exhibit explains:

Many scholars credit Philip Johnston with initiating the Code Talker idea. Johnston was a Caucasian who grew up in Leupp, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation. He approached the Marine Corps in 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor and proposed using Native American Navajo language for combat communications.

His knowledge of the Navajo culture led him to bring four Navajo volunteers to Camp Elliott in San Diego, California (an area that is now part of MCAS-Miramar) for a demonstration. Impressed with successful and efficient English and Navajo translations, the Marine Corps began recruiting Navajos. The first group of twenty-nine recruits entered boot camp, took courses in military communication procedures and developed the code. Approximately 400 Navajo recruited by the Marines learned the code.

Working around the clock during the first two days of Iwo Jima, six Navajo Code Talkers sent and received over 800 messages, all without error. According to Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division Signal Officer, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima”.

The Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum is free and open to the public at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. The museum grounds contains over two dozen aircraft used during the proud history of Marine Corps aviation. It has the world’s largest and most complete collection of vintage aircraft flown by United States Marine pilots.

The museum is looking to expand and I’m told they would really appreciate your help. For more info, click here.

Celebrating 75 Years - Code Talkers: The Navajo Weapon. The Marine Corps deployed the Code Talkers to the Pacific, where the code proved effective and indecipherable.
Celebrating 75 Years – Code Talkers: The Navajo Weapon. The Marine Corps deployed the Code Talkers to the Pacific, where the code proved effective and indecipherable. (Click photo to expand for easy reading.)
The first 29 Code Talkers enlisting in the United States Marine Corps, 1942.
The first 29 Code Talkers enlisting in the United States Marine Corps, 1942.
First 29 Code Talkers of 382nd Platoon, 1942.
First 29 Code Talkers of 382nd Platoon, 1942.
Navajo Code Talkers Henry Bahe and George Kirk working their radio in the jungles of Bougainville.
Navajo Code Talkers Henry Bahe and George Kirk working their radio in the jungles of Bougainville.
Eight Navajo Code Talkers on Bougainville. Most hold an M1 Garand used in combat.
Eight Navajo Code Talkers on Bougainville. Most hold an M1 Garand used in combat.
Display case in the special Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum exhibit includes military field equipment used by the Navajo Code Talkers during World War II.
Display case in this special Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum exhibit includes military field equipment used by the Navajo Code Talkers during World War II.
The EE-8 Field Telephone/Radio was used by the Signal Corps from before World War II through the Vietnam War.
The EE-8 Field Telephone/Radio was used by the Signal Corps from before World War II through the Vietnam War.
Navajo Code Talkers share their culture at Camp Elliott, 1943.
Navajo Code Talkers share their culture at Camp Elliott, 1943.
One of four creators of the code, Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez.
One of four creators of the code, Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez.
Navajo Code Talker PFC Carl Gorman mans his observation post overlooking Garapan Saipan, 1944.
Navajo Code Talker PFC Carl Gorman mans his observation post overlooking Garapan Saipan, 1944.
This enlisted man's uniform jacket, shirt and tie belonged to Samuel Tsosie Sr. The Guadalcanal patch was worn on discharge uniforms by all Navajo Code Talkers.
This enlisted man’s uniform jacket, shirt and tie belonged to Samuel Tsosie Sr. The Guadalcanal patch was worn on discharge uniforms by all Navajo Code Talkers.
Navajo Code Talker Samuel Tsosie Sr., pictured with Alfred M. Gray Jr. during an award assembly in 2009. Gray served as the 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1987-1991.
Navajo Code Talker Samuel Tsosie Sr., pictured with Alfred M. Gray Jr. during an award assembly in 2009. Gray served as the 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1987-1991.
Official uniform of the Navajo Code Talkers includes a red cap, Navajo jewelry, gold shirt, patch on upper arm, light-colored trousers and abalone-colored shoes.
Official uniform of the Navajo Code Talkers includes a red cap, Navajo jewelry, gold shirt, patch on upper arm, light-colored trousers and abalone-colored shoes.

The museum exhibit explains the significance of various items worn by the Navajo Code Talkers.

The red cap indicates the United States Marine Corps. The jewelry represents the Navajo or Diné, which translates “Children of God” or “The People”. The gold shirt represents corn pollen. The light-colored trousers represent Mother Earth. The abalone-colored shoes represents the sacred mountains.

Replica of Congressional Silver Medal represents the medal received by Samuel Tsosie Sr. for his service during World War II. 300 Navajo received the Silver medal.
Replica of Congressional Silver Medal represents the medal received by Samuel Tsosie Sr. for his service during World War II. 300 Navajo received the Silver medal.
Shoulder patch of U.S. Marine Corps--WWII Navajo Code Talkers Association.
Shoulder patch of U.S. Marine Corps–WWII Navajo Code Talkers Association.

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Published by

Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

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