The Navajo ‘code talkers’ of the U.S. Marine Corps are fairly well known for their role in the Pacific theater, but far less has been published about the army program, which began with Choctaws in World War I.
By 1944 German intelligence personnel were fluent in English, French, and other European languages, permitting the Wehrmacht to discern Allied plans by listening to radio or field telephone transmissions. Consequently, the U.S. Army enlisted American Indians as field communication specialists, rightly concluding that no German could understand a Native American language.
The Army Signal Corps began the program with twenty-one Comanches at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1941. They devised a hundred-word dictionary of military terms, including ‘‘two-star chief ’’ for major general, ‘‘eagle’’ for colonel, ‘‘turtle’’ for tank, ‘‘sewing machine’’ for machine gun, and ‘‘pregnant airplane’’ for bomber. The main beneficiary of the code talkers’ unique ability was the Fourth Infantry Division, which assigned two Comanche soldiers to each regiment with others at division headquarters. Subsequently other code talkers joined the army program from the Chippewa, Fox, Hopi, Oneida, and Sac tribes.
Some twenty-five thousand American Indians served in the armed forces during World War II, receiving six Medals of Honor, fifty-one Silver Stars, and forty-seven Bronze Stars.
In 1989 the French government recognized the contribution of U.S. Army code talkers to the Normandy campaign.
This article is part of our larger educational resource on World War Two. For a comprehensive list of World War 2 facts, including the primary actors in the war, causes, a comprehensive timeline, and bibliography, click here.
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