Samuel Sandoval of Shiprock, N.M., and his fellow Navajo speakers used the Native American language to communicate and keep Japanese interpreters from understanding U.S. forces’ communications. Since few outsiders understood the language, their work offered a considerable tactical advantage for the U.S.
“The Japanese didn’t have a chance,” said Sandoval, who served in the Pacific. “I am pretty proud of what we did.”
Using the language during the war was the idea of Phillip Johnston, the son of a Protestant missionary who grew up on a Navajo reservation. After convincing top commanders, Johnston launched a test program and the unit was formed in early 1942, as Johnston recruited the first 29 Code Talkers.
Native words were assigned to military terms, often linked to weapons they resembled. For example, tank was “chay-da-dahi,” the Navajo word for turtle, and a dive bomber was “chini,” which translates to chicken hawk.
The code was expanded by assigning Navajo terms to individual letters, allowing Code Talkers to spell out words. The Navajo term for ant, “wo-la-chee,” became the letter A. The term for badger, “na-hash-chid,” was the letter B.
Sadoval will tell his story at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center at 1 p.m. Tuesday. The Marine Corps League of Grand Rapids is hosting the event to highlight Veterans Day, which is Friday.
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