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.
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)
Your Field Guide
Use the suggested websites below to get a broad view of your desitnation, or select another scholarly resource to get started:
- Website: Navajo Code Talker, Navajopeople.org
- Website: Native Words, Native Warriors Smithsonian Institute exhibition
This site has information about the many American Indian tribes who were were Code Talkers.
- Article: Navajo Code Talkers and the Unbreakable Code, Central intelligence Agency Website
- Video: Chester Nez: The Last of the Original Navajo Codetalkers, video from the American Legion
- Video: Navajo Code Talkers Honored, 43rd U.S. President George W. Bush presented the Navajo Code Talkers their Congressional Gold Medals at the Capital Rotunda, Washington, DC., Courtesy of CSPAN2.