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.
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.
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