Special Sub-Topic: The Real 'Windtalkers'
|From which Native American Nation were the codetalkers for the US Marines recruited?|
Navajo. On a lesser scale, Commanche and Meskwaki speakers were employed by the US Army in Normandy and North Africa, but by far the biggest employer of Native American codetalkers was the US Marines who only recruited Navajo.
The Navajo Nation straddles the borders of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, covering an area of more than 27,000 square miles. In the 2000s it is home to more than 170,000 Navajo and has its own flag and government.
As an example of one of the many ironies of 1940s cultural ideology, whilst the Navajo codetalkers were utilising their language to such good effect on the frontline of the Pacific War, Navajo schoolchildren were being punished for speaking their own language at reservation schools.
|Who had the original idea to employ Native Americans as codetalkers?|
Sergeant Philip Johnston (USMC Recruiting Service). Philip Johnston was a veteran of World War I who had grown up on a Navajo reservation where his father had been a Christian missionary. He was a fluent speaker of the Navajo language, which is called 'Diné'.
Native Americans, specifically eight Choctaws, had been used in a limited but successful capacity as codetalkers during World War I. Johnston had been aware of this and, in early 1942, proposed that the concept be developed on a much larger scale. As part of a successful test, four Navajos were issued with five messages to send in their own language. They demonstrated that they could encode, send and decode a brief message in around 20 seconds. Since contemporary encrypting machines took around 20 minutes to carry out the same task, Johnston's idea was immediately endorsed.
|As far as the Marines were concerned, which feature of the particular language employed by the codetalkers made it useful as a code for battlefield communications?|
All of these reasons (It was incomprehensible to outsiders, It had no written form, It had few native speakers). Navajo is an extremely complex language and is unwritten, with no alphabet or visual symbols. Its unique syntax, tonality and various dialects make it incomprehensible to outsiders. At the beginning of World War II, the language was effectively restricted to approximately 50,000 Navajo people and no more than 30 non-Navajos understood it. None of the non-Navajo speakers of Diné were Japanese.
|Aproximately how many codetalkers were trained to serve with the US Marines during World War II?|
400. 399 of the 540 Navajos who served with the US Marines were trained as codetalkers. The full code training programme took two months (in addition to normal military training) and codetalkers were assigned in pairs to frontline units. All six of the wartime USMC divisions had codetalkers, as did smaller raider and parachute battalions. About 300 codetalkers saw combat.
|Why did the codetalkers devise a special vocabulary for most military terms?|
For all these reasons. As the Navajo language lacked a vocabulary for most military terms, the original codetalker recruits (29 men of the 382nd Platoon) had to assign such words a Navajo term. These then became the specialized vocabulary that subsequent recruits had to learn. For example, 'submarine' became 'besh-lo' (iron fish) and 'dah-he tih-hi' (humming bird) referred to fighter aircraft.
Overall, 450 military terms were assigned Navajo words, in several distinct categories. Recruits had to memorize all of these terms, because having a dictionary printed and carried into the battle zone would have jeopardized security.
|During World War II, in which battle were codetalkers first deployed?|
Guadalcanal. The codetalkers first went into action in August 1942, when the 1st Marine Division conducted 'Operation Watchtower', the amphibious assault on Guadalcanal. This was less than six months after the Marine Commandant, Lieutenant General Thomas Holcomb, had embraced Johnston's idea to recruit Navajo speakers as codetalkers, and barely three months after they had begun basic training.
|The film 'Windtalkers' focuses on the relationship between the Codetalkers and their bodyguards whose primary role was to protect the code at all costs. According to official US Marines historians, did such a role exist?|
n. US Marine historians officially deny that orders to protect the code at all costs ever existed and, indeed, deny that Navajo codetalkers were given bodyguards at all. The film 'Windtalkers' opened up some debate on the subject: Captain Matt Morgan, the USMC motion picture liaison officer stated at the time of its release, "The billet of bodyguard never existed", while Sam Billison, the president of the Navajo Codetalkers Association declared that, "No one wants to admit it". Charles Nez, another WWII veteran codetalker, declared that the USMC, "assigned men to see that we were not bothered by our own men, guards to protect us from American riflemen who mistook us for the enemy", because, "we looked Japanese to them".
|Where were the codetalkers trained in code and radio communications?|
Camp Pendleton, California. A recruitment drive was set up in March 1942, with the initial target of 200 Navajos to serve as communications operatives. Chee Dodge, the chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council, gave full backing to the project. Potential recruits had to be physically fit, had to speak and write English and, of course, speak the Navajo language fluently.
In May 1942, the first 29 Navajo recruits were sworn in at Fort Wingate, New Mexico, where they completed their basic training. They then were transferred to Camp Pendleton, California, to begin work on the code. This became the established training pattern for all subsequent codetalker recruits.
|How many codetalkers were captured alive by Japanese forces?|
0. A Navajo soldier, Joe Kieyoomia, had been captured when Japanese forces overran the Philippines in 1942. When it later became apparent that the US Marines were employing Navajo speakers as communications operatives, the unfortunate Kieyoomia was tortured to discover the secret of the code. Since he had not been a trained codetalker, however, his captors' efforts were mostly pointless. Although Kieyoomia gave them an insight into some of the Navajo language, he was not privy to the specialised vocabulary of the code.
|During the Battle for Saipan, what was the main function carried out by the codetalkers?|
Directing naval gunfire on to enemy positions. The battle for Saipan raged for several days from 15-22 June 1944. The island was a key strategic target as it lay within bombing range of Japan. Although the US forces declared the island secured on 22nd June, there were still fierce 'last-gasp' actions carried out by the remaining Japanese defenders as late as 9th July.
The codetalkers' work was appreciated by their superior officers in many of the campaigns in which they were employed. Major Howard Connor, a signals officer of the 5th Marine Division, stated that, "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima". Connor had six Navajos under his command, and in the first two days of the battle, they transmitted and received 800 messages, making no errors in the process of encoding and decoding them, depite the frontline conditions.
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