Today, August 14th, is National Code Talkers Day. There are only four living code talkers remaining. These brave men played a vital role in the Pacific Theater during World War II. For those who may not be aware of the code talkers or the code talker program, Philip Johnston, the son of an early 19th century Navajo missionary and a World War I veteran, proposed using the Navajo language as a code for the United States Marine Corps. At the time, the Navajo language was an unwritten language and so unique that it would be difficult for non-speakers to decipher meaning from phrases spoken in Navajo.
The United States Marine Corps accepted the concept and began recruiting young Navajo men to serve as code talkers. Philip Johnston, enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age 50 to help recruit Navajo men to serve as code talkers. The first group of 29 Navajo Code Talkers was trained at Camp Pendleton, CA, where the initial code was developed. The Navajo code talkers program was very successful and allowed messages to be transmitted, received, and translated much faster than previous codes.
The Cline Library Special Collections and Archives is honored to house the Philip Johnston Papers. The papers document the development, proposal, and evolution of the Navajo Code Talker Program, including several lexicons outlining the code. The code was never “cracked” or successfully deciphered by the Japanese or Axis Powers.
The program was so successful that the Marine Corps used other Indigenous languages to develop codes, such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Cree, Mohawk, and Basque.
The finding aid for the Philip Johnston Papers can be found on Arizona Archives Online or by clicking here. To see digitized selections from the Philip Johnston Papers on the Cline Library’s digital archives, click here. To view all digitized content pertaining to the Navajo Code Talkers, click here.