Code Talkers tell all

BRENT ADDLEMAN Managing Editor

A pair of World War II Navajo Code Talkers had Somervell County on the edge of its collective seat on Saturday evening at the Expo Center.

Peter MacDonald and Don Akee were guests of honor as the U.S. Veterans Museum, based on Granbury, spoke of their efforts and fellow Navajo soldiers who served in the Marines and played an integral part of winning the Pacific Theatre in the great war against Japan.

MacDonald, who is 87 years of age, spoke of how the Navajo were recruited as they were asked if they “wanted to fight,” but it was the idea of Philip Johnson, who lived in Los Angeles but was the son of missionaries who spent time working with the Navajo to use that culture’s language in the war effort.

The Navajo who joined had to go through basic and combat training like all the other Marines, but their final assignment was one of memorization and secrecy. With the Navajo code that was created from the language of the Native American group, it was never written down in codebooks therefore making it nearly impossible for the Japanese to decipher – which they never did. To that point in the war, Japan had deciphered every single code the United States used.

MacDonald spoke of how each letter of the alphabet was assigned a word from the Navajo language beginning with the same letter. Letters where then put together in groups of five and transmitted back-and-forth from command centers and troops in battle.

The code began with 200 words but grew to over 600 at the end of the war. No one knew of the code until it was declassified in 1968, according to MacDonald, as the soldiers were not permitted to tell anyone what they actually did. MacDonald said the soldiers were ordered to just tell people they were “a radio man.”

Developing the language was tricky as military terms were not present in the Navajo language. For example the Navajo word for potato was used for hand grenade “because it looked like a potato,” MacDonald said.

The code was first used at Guadalcanal, a surprise offensive by the Americans in the Solomon Islands, according to the website, www.history.com.

“The Code Talkers are dwindling,” MacDonald, said, “the same as all World War II veterans.”

MacDonald also spoke of a project to build a national Navajo code talkers museum on the Navajo reservation.

“The Code Talkers story represents America,” MacDonald said.

Akee, who is 93 years of age, spoke briefly about how he was happy to see the war come to an end. Akee fought in four invasions, including Iwo Jima, while serving with the 12th Marine Division.

“Iwo Jima was awful,” Akee said. “It was awful to see young people who gave their all. I was glad when the war was over. Every Navajo should be proud, the whole United States should be proud.

“We need peace not war,” Akee said, with the crowd standing, giving the veteran a standing ovation.

The gala also featured Navajo song and dance. Songs included the fight song and a song honoring the Code Talkers.

Brent Addleman is managing editor of the Glen Rose Reporter. He can be reached at 254-897-2282 or email to brent.addleman@theglenrosereporter.com. Follow him on Twitter: @GRR_Editor.