Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, attacked the Philippines and Guam, and were seizing territory in the south and central Pacific in assaults that included sinking British battleship Prince of Wales and battle cruiser Repulse off Malaya.
Japanese cryptographers, many of them educated in the United States and fluent in standard and colloquial English, were amazingly adept at breaking codes.
Officially, Marine recruits had to be between 16 and 35 years of age. Several recruits’ families insisted that their sons participate in a religious ceremony to pray for a safe return before departing for basic training at San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Following basic training, the Navajos moved to Camp Pendleton at Oceanside, California.
Birth records were not usually kept on the reservation; some underage volunteers lied about when they were born, as did 36-year-old Fort Defiance resident Carl Gorman. During a dress parade on a hot day, several white Marines passed out; the Navajos remained erect in formation and at attention during the personal inspection that followed.
At first assigned mainly at the company-battalion level, code-talkers became virtually indispensable. When Japanese resistance inland almost halted the American advance, a white Marine asked his foxhole mate, a Navajo, what he thought of his prayers now. “We only prayed for help during the landings.” Code talkers served with all six Marine divisions in the Pacific and with Marine Raider and parachute units, earning lavish praise for their performance in the Solomons and the Marianas and on Peleliu and Iwo Jima. Most code talkers came home to family reunions and purification rites, traditional dances, and curing ceremonies, coupled with maternal prayers of thanks for sons’ safe return.“They’re a typical Marine outfit of budding specialists,” the publication Marine Corps Chevron reported.“They gripe about the things that all Marines gripe about—liberty, chow and the San Diego weather.” The Navajos were assigned to devise a code in their language that would baffle enemy listeners.Often, especially when a Marine regiment was fighting alongside an Army unit, white soldiers mistook the Navajo for the enemy, nearly costing several code-talkers their lives. Code-talker William Mc Cabe, waiting on a Guadalcanal beach for his ship, joined a chow line. Of Iwo Jima, Fifth Marine Division Signal Officer Major Howard Conner said, “The entire operation was directed by Navajo code. These rites originated to protect returning Navajo from harmful influences they might have encountered or duties they had to to perform while away.“I got lost among the big chow dump,” he recalled, “All of a sudden I heard somebody say, ‘Halt,’ and I kept walking. Few former code-talkers displayed evidence of serious psychological problems or combat fatigue, but reservation life nonetheless proved difficult. Bill provided money for home loans to veterans, but many banks refused Navajo veterans loans because Navajo families held reservation land parcels in trust and had no proof of title.Impressed, Camp Elliott commander Major General Clayton Vogel asked Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, DC, to authorize the immediate recruitment of 200 young, well-educated Navajos as Marine communications specialists.Headquarters authorized 30, reasoning that to be enough to prove Johnston’s theory. Marine Corps) By April, Marine personnel were on the Navajo Reservation recruiting volunteers from Indian agency schools at Fort Wingate and Shiprock, New Mexico, and Fort Defiance, Arizona.Food and water run short because there are twice as many people imprisoned as planned.“As I have said, our ancestors were taken captive and driven to Hwééldi for no reason at all.Enemy forces often knew about American battle plans in advance, and no defense against Japanese codebreaking had materialized.“Military communications were made available to the enemy like sand sifting through a sieve,” an analyst said. Philip Johnston, a civil engineer who lived in Los Angeles, was the child of missionaries who had raised their son on the Navajo Reservation, which stretches across New Mexico and Arizona.