20 Virtual Field Trip: American Indian Code Talkers

Virtual Field Trip: American Indian Code Talkers

During World War I and World War II, hundreds of American Indians joined the United States armed forces and used words from their traditional tribal languages as weapons.

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6 Choctaw Indians in WWII military uniforms A group of Choctaw men pose around a large American flag in civilian dress A group of Comanche soldiers stading around two men in Native American dress Man in aboriginal dress playing a didgeridoo Sample code for Planes in Navajo Code: Planes, wo tah de ne ih, airforce: Dive Bomber Gini, Chicken Hawk: Torpedo Plane, Tas Chizzie, Swallow: Orbs Plan, ne as jah, owl: Fighter plane, de he tih hi, humming bird: Bomber Plane, jay sho, buzzard: Patrol Plane ga gih, crow: Transport atsah, eagle.Sample code for ships in Navajo Code: Ships, toh-dineh-ih, sea force: battleship, lo-tso, whale; aircraft tsidi-moffa-ye-hi bird carrier; submarine besh-lo iron fish; mine sweeper cha beaver; destroyer ca-lo shark; transport dineh-nay-ye-hi man carrier; cruiser lo-tso-yazzie small whale; mosquito boat tse-e mosquito

The United States military asked them to develop secret battle communications based on their languages—and America’s enemies never deciphered the coded messages they sent. “Code Talkers,” as they came to be known after World War II, are twentieth-century American Indian warriors and heroes who significantly aided the victories of the United States and its allies.” (from Native Words, Native Warriors)

So we start talking about different things, animals, sea creatures, birds, eagles, hawks, and all those domestic animals. Why don’t we use those names of different animals—from A to Z. So A, we took a red ant that we live with all the time. B we took a bear, Yogi the Bear, C a Cat, D a Dog, E an Elk, F, Fox, G, a goat and so on down the line.”

—Chester Nez, Navajo Code Talker, National Museum of the American Indian interview, 2004

The idea of using American Indians who were fluent in both their traditional tribal language and in English to send secret messages in battle was first put to the test in World War I with the Choctaw Telephone Squad and other Native communications experts and messengers. However, it wasn’t until World War II that the US military developed a specific policy to recruit and train American Indian speakers to become code talkers. (WWII Museum, New Orleans)

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