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Lest We Forget

Published: May 11, 2017 12:00 AM

A unique contribution to the successful efforts of World War II was given by our Native Americans, the Navajo Code Talkers.

However, code talking was pioneered by the Cherokee and Chocktaw Indians during World War I. Adolph Hitler knew about the successful use of code talkers during World War I and sent a team of anthropologists to the United States to learn the Native American languages before the outbreak of World War II, but it proved too difficult for them to learn the many languages and dialects that existed. Because of the Nazi Germany anthropologists' efforts to learn the Native American languages, the U.S. Army did not implement Code Talkers in Europe until the Normandy invasion.

In 1942, Philip Johnson, a World War I veteran, proposed the use of the Navajo to the Marine Corps. Johnson was raised on a Navajo reservation, where was the son of a missionary to the Navajo people. He was one of the few who spoke the language fluently.

The Marines recruited 200 Navajos for that purpose. The first 29 recruits went to boot camp in 1942 and created the Navajo code at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, Calif. At one time there were 400 to 500 Native Americans in the United States Marine Corps. Their primary job was the transmission of secret tactical messages. Code Talkers transmitted these messages over military telephone or radio communications networks using formal or informally developed codes built on their native languages.

In addition to the Code Talkers, many other Native Americans proved themselves with honor during World War II. In 1943 during the battle of Tarawa and the Atolls, the stepping stones in the Pacific, American Indians representing 20 tribes were thrown into battle. Carrying a varied assortment of knives as their chief equipment, these men mainly from New Mexico and Arizona sent the Japanese reeling back, captured positions and artillery, inflicted heavy casualties and seized large amounts of supplies during the second month of the invasion.

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The first great battle on Italian soil started the night of Sept. 8, 1943. There were only three divisions in the first assult force: one was the American 45th Infantry and two were British. The 45th was an outfit made up largely of men from the southwest: Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. They were tall, tough fellows with more than 1,000 Native Americans among them. The Germans' worst fear was the American Indians of the 45th Division, who, they were sure, would scalp them alive.

We must never forget the part played by Native Americans in the success of World War II. Please continue to keep all of our military personnel and their families in your prayers.

Charles R. Pearson, chaplain, Malvern Legion Post #375

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