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WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2007 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today met here with a group of Marine Veterans who used their native Navajo language to baffle the Japanese during World War II.
"You all are legends of our corps and Marines who demonstrated the resilience and capacity that made an enormous difference during the course of the war," Marine Gen. Peter Pace told five "Navajo code talkers" and their families during a morning meeting in his Pentagon office.
Pace presented the code talkers with personalized pens, while the general received a multicolored blanket bearing Navajo symbols.
"This is a priceless gift," said Pace, as the blanket was draped across his four-starred shoulders. "I’m going to sleep with it tonight."
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left, meets with five Navajo Code Talkers and their family members at the Pentagon, Aug. 10, 2007. The Navajos served as U.S. Marines in World War II and helped develop a communications code based on their language. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen
Imperial Japan’s bombing of the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, brought America into World War II. As part of the U.S. "island-hopping" strategy to push the Japanese back across the Pacific, the Marines in 1942 began training troops of Navajo Indian descent to use their language as part of a code to communicate troop movements and other important battle information over telephones and radios.
More than 400 Navajo code talkers were trained in 1942-45 to take part in Marine operations in the Pacific Theater. The code was so successful that it wasn’t declassified until 1968. A Navajo code talkers’ exhibit was dedicated at the Pentagon in 1992.
Congressional Gold Medals were awarded to the original 29 code talkers by President Bush in July 2001 in the Capitol Rotunda. Their efforts were immediately popularized in a Navajo Code Talkers movie, “Windtalkers,” starring Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater as two Marines assigned to protect Code Talkers in Saipan.
The code talkers who visited the Pentagon today are among 225 who received Silver Congressional Medals in November 2001 at Window Rock, Ariz. They are:
- Cpl. Alfred Peaches, 82, of Winslow, Ariz.;
- Cpl. Joe Morris Sr., 82, Daggett, Calif.;
- Pvt. Arthur J. Hubbard Sr., 95, Ganado, Ariz.;
- Pvt. George Willie, 81, Leupp, Ariz.; and
- Pfc. Samuel Smith, 82, Gallup, N.M.
Morris enlisted in the Marines at age 17 and completed four months of code training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in 1944. The first group of about 29 code talkers had preceded his class, he said.
The Japanese "couldn’t read our code," Morris said. Use of the Navajo-coded messages, he said, assisted U.S. forces in ejecting Japanese troops from their captured territories.
"We started pushing them back," Morris said.
After the war ended, Morris left the Marines in August 1946.
"They’re all heroes." said Morris’ 73-year-old wife, Charlotte.
Marine Lance Cpl. Osiris Azar, 19, who hails from Benton Harbor, Mich., talked with Morris about his World War II exploits in the Pacific, which, like many of the other code talkers, included duty at the battles for Guadalcanal, Guam, Saipan, and Okinawa.
Azar is an administrative specialist with U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters’ Consolidated Administration Office at Henderson Hall, in Arlington, Va., and he was among five modern-day Marines who met with the World War II Veterans during lunch prior to a group tour of the Pentagon.
"I actually like history a lot, and there aren’t too many chances to speak to legends," Azar said of Morris and his fellow code talkers. "I’m real proud to say I’ve been able to meet someone who did so much for our country."
Samuel Smith’s son, Michael Smith, 45, hails from Window Rock, Ariz., the capital of the Navajo Nation. The younger Smith also is a member of the Navajo Code Talkers Association.
Less than 70 Navajo code talkers survive today, said Smith, who was a Marine like his father, having served during the early 1980s.
"If you’d ask my Dad about the code and how it was for him in battle, he will tell you that he was a Marine first. That was his job: to be a Marine," the younger Smith said.
"The code was one of the weapons that he’d had to fight the battle," he continued. "My whole family is very proud of my dad."
Samuel Smith said he has tried to serve a larger cause than himself throughout his life.
"It was not just the (Navajo) code," Smith said of his World War II service. "It was defending your country."