accepted. U.S. sergeant Frank Shinn asked Navajo council chairman
Dodge for help in the building of a code. Dodge went on the radio
sent out a call for Navajo recruits. There were requirements of
between eighteen and thirty years of age, being at least one hundred
pounds in weight, and being fluent in both English and Navajo
Building of The Navajo Code
Many Navajos eagerly applied for
this job. One Navajo, Dean
about his age, changing it from fifteen to eighteen so he would be
the job. Carl Gorman, however, claimed to be thirty instead of
thirty-six. Some of the underweight volunteers ate bunches of
bananas. One Navajo drank four pounds of water because he was
he was three pounds under the weight limit. “When we were
knew only that we were to be specialists of some kind, but did not know
would have anything to do with setting up codes.” Some Navajos
confused the word “marine” with “submarine” and assumed that they would
training for undersea duty.
The Navajo Code
construction was underway. Thirty
Navajos were recruited. They built a code in varying forms.
letter “a,” for example, was wol-la-chee for the Navajo word ant.
The term for “bomb” was “egg” because the word “bomb” wasn’t in the
language and a bomb closely resembled an egg. The word “bomb” was
the code name a-ye-shi. Months were named after their
characteristics. March was given the name “small plant” or Tah-chill
on the fact that it is the beginning of Spring, and the time to plant
seed. A word like “belong” was a made into a play on spelling, so
given the code name “long bee” or tses-tah-snez.
given a name according to shape. For instance, “parentheses” were
or atsanh and “colons” were “two spots” or naki-alh--deh-da-al-zhin.
Some of these words may be heard
spoken by Richard Begay on the web.
Japanese code interceptors and
started to see
patterns in the code. For instance, in Guadalcanal, there are
in that word. The Japanese were starting to recognize that.
cover up, they made two substitute letters for the more common letters
E, A, I, O, S, T, etc., but did not bother with letters such as Q, X,
Z. It was time for the Navajo tribe to serve their country in war.
Little was one of the Marines chosen to be a Code
Talker. "First, when I enlisted,
I went to San Diego for boot
camp. Just about the time I was getting done with boot camp training,
instructor came up to me one day and said, 'Are you an American
Indian?' I told
him, 'Yes, sir.' Then he said, 'Are you a Navajo?' And I said, 'Yes,
he made a remark that the Marine Corps needed Navajos because they made
scouts. My platoon mates heard everything he said to me. I got a good
out of that. They said that I was going to get my butt shot off for
eligible for going scouting (scouts cross the front line and go ahead
around), because I could get shot at all the time. I didn’t understand
was saying that Navajos would make good communicators.
"So I went
bunch of Navajos. We loaded up onto a
truck and they hauled us up to a place called Camp Pendleton. We got
there about noontime. There was nobody in the barracks, just us new
When the company came back it was about 4:30 in the afternoon, and we
out to see what they looked like. There were about 200 Navajos there,
were stymied, wondering what all those Navajos were doing here
wouldn’t tell us what we were doing there.
The next day they told us
exactly what we were going to do. We were going to study the Navajo
code and memorize it. They told us, 'When you go on leave, when you go
your family, don’t tell anybody what you’re doing.' It was top military
secret. It was bewilderment for all of us. You wanted to know why, but
wouldn’t have any of it. They wouldn’t let us ask questions. 'Just do
what you are
told,' they said. When we were in the classroom we were drilled and
No writing it down. It was all memorized. No pencils, no pieces
paper would go out of the classroom. At the end of the class you had to
in every pencil and piece of paper."