Sunday, May 24, 2009

Navajo Weapon - The Navajo Code Talkers by Sally McClain

It is more than appropriate for me to mention this book, Navajo Weapon - The Navajo Code Talkers by Sally McClain, and the men it honors in connection with Memorial Day. My oldest daughter was out west for the annual balloon rodeo and happened upon and met with the code talkers at some event. She knew I'd be interested and bought this book for me. She told them about my military service and they gathered around and signed it for me. I can't tell you what an honor it is to have this connection to these men.

For those that don't know, a program proposed by Philip Johnston (this was his main contribution to the effort) to the U.S. Marine Corps to use Native Americans speaking their language(s) as code was utilized during WWII. Those of us who have worked with code and coding systems know just how simple this system is to use (albeit requiring extensive training and intense attention to detail and self-discipline by the "talkers"). Now, technology has been used to eliminate the need for this while permitting radio users to speak without code words, i.e. "in the clear". Then, that was not possible and technology required a number of burdensome methods that either didn't work (as with the Japanese Purple code, the German Enigma machine or the U.S. shackle codes) well or quickly or without risk of compromise. Having worked to intercept communications and break codes myself, I can fully appreciate how difficult it was for the Japanese to deal with this system of code talking. It is all the more amazing that they had a partial key in the form of a captured Navajo but were unable to exploit it.

This book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in military history, Native American history, codes/ciphers, military intelligence, U.S. Marine Corps history, and/or WWII.

You may have seen a dramatization of these men's service in the movie "Windtalkers". There is also a documentary on the subject, "NAVAJO CODE TALKERS - America's Secret Weapon in World War II"

- Navajo Code Talkers

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