Code Talkers

During World War II, what was the nickname given to members of American Indian communities who helped create secret messages that were impossible for the enemy to decipher?

And the answer: Code Talkers.

Navajo Code Talkers Corporal Henry Bake, Jr. (left) and Private First Class George H. Kirk operating a portable radio set at Bougainville, an island in the South Pacific, in December 1943. (Photo credit: National Archives)

In the early 1940s, the Marine Corps began recruiting members of the Navajo Nation to develop a secret code within their language. Eventually hundreds of Code Talkers from 16 different American Indian tribes participated.

The Code Talkers were among some of the most essential groups holding down the communication efforts of World War II. Many young Native men were excited for the opportunity to participate in the tradition of becoming a "warrior," an English word ascribed to the tradition of defending one's family and community. In many tribes, warriors were highly regarded and spiritually essential for young boys and men. This tradition and honor inspired many to become involved in the United States military.

Building off techniques initiated in World War I, the army recruited Comanches, Navajos, Choctaws, Hopis, Cherokees, and others members of American Indian communities to transmit messages. Two types of codes soon developed: Type Two, which was defined by a simple translation, and Type One, a more intricate code that depended on the first letter of the English spelling of a Native word. Code Talkers were often in serious, make-or-break positions on and off the battlefield as they transmitted information. Proficiency of wire and radio equipment was essential, as well as thinking quickly to relay information.

Code Talkers were not only brave on the field but intelligent communicators that brought honor to their communities. Read more about the specific codes and reality of life as a Code Talker here.

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