It has been 66 years since the end of World War II and 43 yearssince the United States declassified the war secret of the onlyunbroken code in modern military history – the one created andimplemented by Navajo code talkers during their tenure in the U.S.Marine Corps.
This Veteran’s Day, five of the few dozen remaining code talkersflew into New York City to participate in the 2011 Veteran’s DayParade: to honor their past, celebrate their present, and continuetheir efforts to ensure that both are preserved for futuregenerations. They also made time to visit Dyker Heights, at thesuggestion of Gloria Calicchia, who is on the board of the DykerHeights Civic Association, for dinner at Tommaso’s, on 86th Streetat Bay Eighth Street.
The Navajo language is important. To know the Navajo culture isalso important. It’s tradition. We need to retain that, said KeithLittle, USMC veteran from 1943 to 1945 and president of thenonprofit Navajo Code Talkers (NCT) Foundation which is dedicatedto educating, preserving and passing on the unique history andlanguage of the NCT.
The NCT were not considered citizens of the United States. Theycould not vote, could not hold office because they were wards ofthe state. Now we can, added Little. I think that the Navajoservicemen [helped] change that. We came back with a different ideaof economic policy on the reservation. Today, we realize ourefforts… [Now] our endeavor is to create the NCT legacy through amuseum.
That is why Little, along with fellow code talkers Bill Toledo,Samuel Tso, Frank Chee Willeto and Samuel Holiday, who all came toNew York together with their spouses and supporters, are seekinghelp.
The code talkers are one of the organizations we want tosupport. [Out of 400,] there are only 65 left, said EverettDearman, Passaquoddy tribe member and vice president of NativeAmerican markets at NativeOne Institutional Trading, the onlyNative American-owned company to become a member of the New YorkStock Exchange. We want to raise awareness and give back tosupport [a] museum, to remember that legacy. It is important toremember that history.
The first 29 Navajo code talkers were recruited into the U.S.Marine Corps in 1942 after WWI veteran Philip Johnston proposed theidea to top brass as the solution to the problem of developing anindecipherable code. Navajo is spoken only in tribal lands in thesouthwest and has unique syntax, tonal qualities, dialects andmeanings that take a lifetime of immersion to understand.
The code itself was initially developed into a codebook by thefirst 29 Navajo recruits and then memorized and expanded upon bysuccessive groups. Words such as tortoise and potato were usedto describe a tank or hand grenade, respectively, and othermilitary terms were spelled out using different words to representeach individual letter.
The code we used will be in the [Navajo Code Talkers Museum andVeterans Center]. People will see how we sent messages to eachother, said Toledo, who, like all code talkers, was forbidden toreveal his wartime work to anyone, including family members, untilthe project was declassified in 1968.
I like to tell Navajo kids, young boys and girls, to keep thelanguage going, not to forget it. It’s a beautiful language, hesaid. After 60 years, we still get requests from schools,colleges, private organizations, to hear the story about how thecode was made. Different clans invite us… I like doing that. Iget to meet a lot of people.
On why she travels with her husband Keith, Nellie Littleexplained that she want[s] him to see that, for him to see itbefore his time [is up]. We accomplished a lot of stuff with ourlogging business and been all over the place with logging, but thisis a special effort. There are very few [code talkers] left.
For more information about the Navajo Code Talkers and theproposed museum, visit www.navajocodetalkers.org.