Code Talkers spoke victory to help win World War II

Julia LeDoux
April 01, 2019 - 4:08 pm
Navajo Code Talkers spoke victory to help win World War II.

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

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Zonnie Gorman not only knows the story of the Navajo Code Talkers, but she also lives it.

Her father, Carl Gorman, was one of the original 29 Code Talkers -- members of the Navajo nation recruited by the Marine Corps during World War II. The men confounded the Japanese by using their native language as a code to pass messages during combat operations in the Pacific.

“The code talkers have always been part of my life,” Gorman said. “My dad always talked about it, not about the bad stuff, not about the fighting.”

Gorman said the United States wasn’t prepared to go to war when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

“The Marine Corps and the other services were at a major disadvantage when it came to communications,” she said.

The Armed Forces had no way to securely transmit battle plans in the early days of the war and scrambled to develop codes that couldn’t be broken. The Marines settled on using the Navajo language to develop code because it is not written and very few people who aren’t of Navajo origin can speak it, Gorman said.

RELATED: Navajo Code Talkers Museum project draws bipartisan support  

After learning that the Corps was actively seeking Navajos to join its ranks, Carl Gorman joined up in April 1942 when he was 35.

Gorman and the rest of the 29 arrived at Camp Elliott near San Diego in May 1942.

“They were asked to create a code in Navajo,” she said. “They were put in a room and were guarded by MPs (military policemen).”

Code talkers
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

The 29 spent weeks initially translating 200 terms into Navajo before being sent to the Pacific.

“The words had to be short and quick,” Gorman said. “The Navajos would often create words. The language is very descriptive.”

RELATED: Tlingit Code Talkers feted in Alaska for World War II role

During the course of the war, about 400 Navajos participated in the code talker program. The men developed words for terms that didn’t exist in their language. For example, warship became Lo-Tso-Yazzie or small whale. Dive bombers were "ginis" which translated means chicken hawks.

The Japanese never broke the code and the men who developed and used it were sworn to secrecy, a vow they took seriously.

“When they came back from war, they went through a purification ceremony to put war behind them,” Gorman said. “They didn’t talk about it.”

That changed in 1968 when the Navajo Code Talker program was declassified by the military. Carl Gorman was among the first to publicly speak about his experiences to ensure that the story of the code talkers is not forgotten.

“The story of the Code Talkers resonates on so many levels,” she said. “It is a Marine Corps story. It is an American story. It is a Navajo story.”

Gorman plans to attend a June 8 ceremony in Lake Havasu, Arizona that honors the Code Talkers.

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