August 14 celebrates Native Americans’ roles as “Code Talkers” during World War II

During World War II, Native Americans played a key role in the war against the Axis. They confounded the enemy by using the Navajo language to send secret information from the front lines.

Navajo code talkers during World War II
Navajo code talkers during World War II

The enemy could hear the messages, which they couldn’t decipher because the Navajo language was unfamiliar to them. Consequently, these “code talkers,” as they were called, saved lives and helped the United States and its allies defeat Germany, Italy and Japan. They maintained a cloak of secrecy that lasted long beyond the war’s end. It wasn’t until 1982 that they were honored for their work, when President Ronald Reagan established August 14 as National Navajo Code Talkers Day.

But the role of Native Americans and the use of their language in code actually began long before World War II. Native Americans have served in every war fought on this continent, including the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

More than 14,000 Native Americans served during World War I, even though they were not considered U.S. citizens. Soldiers from the Choctaw and other tribes began sending battle messages in their native languages by telephone. It enabled the U.S. Army to win some key battles in France that helped bring the war to an end as well. Their service in World War I compelled Congress to grant those veterans U.S. citizenship, followed by all Native Americans in 1924.

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