Friday, November 27, 2009

Navajo to the Rescue

Native Americans have saved pale faces from some dire situations a time or two. After all where would the Plymouth Colony have been without the aid of Squanto? Jamestown without Pocahontas? And during World War II, the United States military without the Navajo code talkers?

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two, is a great source for learning about the later. The voice in this book belongs to a Navajo, Ned Begay, who is telling his grandchildren about his youth at boarding school and then his life as a marine.

Prior to World War II schools were organized to give Navajo children an "American" education. Talking in their native tongue was not allowed, and in fact, evoked severe punishment. The irony is that during the second World War the Navajo language that these children spoke secretly among themselves saved untold American lives.

The Japanese were decoding secret messages easily until the idea was implemented to use the unwritten, isolated Navajo language. Recruits from the southwestern reservation created their own code, substituting Navajo words for the military words they resembled. For instance, the Navajo word for “tortoise” was used in place of “tank” and “dive bomber” was the Navajo word for “chicken hawk.” Or words could be spelled out using the Navajo word for “ant” or “apple” or “ax” for an “A” and so on.

This book not only chronicles the way in which the code evolved, but also the Pacific campaign itself. The main character is involved in the invasion of Bougainville, Guam, Pavavu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. You get a feel for what the war was like for these soldiers and the unbending determination of the Japanese to NEVER surrender. Also the specific concerns of the more than 400 code talkers; their fears of deep water, dead people and of being mistaken for Japanese, as they shared such similar physical characteristics.

It is an eye-opening book in many ways.

Ages 12 and up

Activity: Can you break this code using the Navajo code talker's alphabet? TSE-GAH WOL-LA-CHEE CLA-GI-AIH BI-SO-DIH TSAH-AS-ZIH CHA A-KHA DIBEH-YAZZIE YEH-HES BE BE-LA-SANA TSAH-AS-ZIH DIBEH!

Untold Stories Of The Second World War: The Navajo (Part 1)

Untold Stories Of The Second World War: The Navajo (Part 2)

Untold Stories Of The Second World War: The Navajo (Part 3)


  1. Hi Jill! I came to your blog through Dana, at School for Us. And I have to tell you that this may be a blog that my 11 year old son bookmarks. He LOVES history and it's hard for me to keep up with his interests.
    This post in particular was of great interest to him. He became interested in the subject after watching the movie, "Windtalkers" with Nicolas Cage. It's not typically a movie that an 11 year old should watch, but it's hard for me to keep him away from historical dramas.
    Because of your post he has gone off on another WWII Navajo code tangent.
    Btw, there is a great display on the WWII Navajo code in the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC.

  2. Hi Robin. I'm so glad you and your son visited my blog. He sounds like my kind of kid! I haven't seen "Windtalkers". I'll have to now. The International Spy Museum sounds interesting too. I heard mention of it when I read and posted about “Moe Berg: The Spy Behind Home Plate”, another very interesting WWII story.

  3. I edited my review so that it linked to your review :)
    This was very informative and I love how you shared the videos. i also love the prupose of your blog, since I love historical fiction and I think it's great that you feature coresponding activties.