Young Marines Travel to Arizona for Navajo Code Talkers Day

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Every year since 2006, Young Marines from across the country gather in Window Rock, AZ, to honor and act as escorts for Navajo Code Talkers from WWII during Navajo Code Talkers Day, Friday, Aug. 14.

Navajo Code Talkers Day, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015

Navajo Code Talkers Day, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015

Just being around these special veterans makes us feel as though we are able to take a step back in time. The general public needs to know that someone is looking out for their legacy.

More than 175 Young Marines and 52 Registered Adult Leaders will travel to Window Rock, Arizona, to be part of Navajo Code Talkers Day, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. The Young Marines’ theme is “Teaching Today's Youth About Yesterday's Heroes."

"The contribution of the Navajo Code Talkers to America's campaign in the Pacific is a fascinating period in our history and one that should not be lost," said Mike Kessler, national executive director and CEO of the Young Marines. "Just being around these special veterans makes us feel as though we are able to take a step back in time. The general public needs to know that someone is looking out for their legacy, and that someone is the Young Marines. What a great opportunity for us all just to be here with the Code Talkers."

The Young Marines will participate for three days - Aug. 13, 14 and 15, 2015 - acting as escorts for veterans among many other duties. Every year since 2006, Young Marines from across the country gather in Window Rock, AZ, to honor and give praise to veterans and to the Navajo Code Talkers from WWII. The Navajo Nation has a very large population of veterans of all branches.

Additional events are planned for:

  •     Aug. 13 - Community service project – Clean up of Veteran’s Memorial Park in Window Rock, attend an educational class about the Navajo Code Talkers and experience a meet-and-greet with a Navajo Code Talker.
  •     Aug. 14 – Set up flags and march in the Navajo Nation parade, escort the Navajo Code Talkers and participate in the ceremony. The Young Marines also do post parade clean up.
  •     Aug. 15 – Participate in the Generations of Honor Memorial 5K Run/Walk. Visit the Navajo Museum.

"The Young Marines have become important participants in this very special event,” said Brenda McNulty, Unit Commander, Mountain View unit of the Young Marines and organizer of the event. “They send out the invitations, find the guest speaker, escort veterans, sing the National Anthem, march in the parade and more.”

According to McNulty, it's rare to meet people who have had such an impact on others' lives. The men are more than just WWII heroes.

"They are dear friends to the Young Marines," McNulty said. "Frankly, this event is my heart. I could go without Christmas or 4th of July just don't take away my time with the Code Talkers. They are all like my grandfathers, and they love these kids.”

Four Young Marines have been awarded scholarships that cover the cost of the Window Rock, Arizona, trip. The four were judged on essays submitted. They are:

  •     Jasper Smith - Douglas County Young Marines
  •     Jascha Ely - East Valley Young Marines
  •     Chandler Dillon - Guadalupe Valley Young Marines
  •     Lauren Loria - Col. Wesley Fox Young Marines

The Generations of Honor Memorial 5K Run/Walk starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 15. It starts and ends at the Navajo Nation Veteran’s Memorial Park. The 5K benefits the Young Marines Navajo Code Talker Day Fund which raises money for funeral expenses for the Navajo Code Talkers. A virtual 5K is being held as well.

"This race can be run virtually meaning wherever and whenever a person wants to," McNulty said.

The Navajo Nation Veteran’s Memorial Park is significant, because it was designed and built by the Navajo. It is their “living” Veteran’s Memorial. The idea for the Memorial evolved from within a group of Native Vietnam Veterans, Navajo Code Talkers, and culturally important, Navajo medicine men.

The park has many symbolic structures: a circular path outlining the four cardinal directions and 16 angled steel pillars with the names of war veterans. In addition, there is a healing sanctuary that is used for reflection and solitude, and it features a fountain made of sandstone.

Top secret

During the early months of WWII, Japanese intelligence experts broke every code the U.S. forces devised. They were able to anticipate American actions at an alarming rate. With plenty of fluent English speakers at their disposal, they sabotaged messages and issued false commands in order to ambush Allied troops.

To combat this, increasingly complex codes were initiated. At Guadalcanal, military leaders complained that sending and receiving these codes required hours of encryption and decryption—up to two and a half hours for a single message. They rightly argued the military needed a better way to communicate.

World War I veteran Philip Johnston suggested that the U.S. military develop a code based on the Navajo language which was unwritten. The son of a missionary to the Navajos, Johnston was one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently.

Johnston had been brought up on a Navajo reservation, and he knew that many Navajo words have different meanings depending on context. Once he demonstrated to the Marine Corps how effective a Navajo-based code would be in thwarting intelligence breaches, the Marines set out to sign up Navajos as radio operators.

In 1942, 29 Navajos ranging in age from 15 to 35, created the first U.S. military code based on their indigenous language. It started with a vocabulary of 200 terms but tripled in quantity by the time World War II ended. The Navajo code talkers could pass messages in as little as 20 seconds.

The code was so complex that not even native Navajo speakers could comprehend it. The code also proved unique, because the Navajo soldiers weren’t allowed to write it down once they were on frontlines of the war. Everything was memorized.

During the first two days of the Battle of Iwo Jima, the code talkers transmitted 800 messages with no mistakes. Their efforts played a key role in the U.S. emerging victoriously from the Battle of Iwo Jima as well as the battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan and Okinawa.

In 1942, there were about 50,000 Navajo tribe members. As of 1945, 540 Navajos served as Marines, 420 as code talkers. The Navajo soldiers’ unbreakable code saved thousands of lives and helped end WWII.

The Navajo Code Talkers may have been World War II heroes, but the public didn’t realize it, because the code remained a top military secret for decades following the war.

The Navajo Code Talkers’ contributions to the U.S. military during World War II became better known with the release of the 2002 movie, “Windtalkers,” starring Nicolas Cage.

Although the movie received mixed reviews, it exposed the public to World War II’s Native American heroes.

Founded in 2009 by a small group of surviving Navajo Code Talkers, the Navajo Code Talkers Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating current and future generations about the history, ideals, and heroic accomplishments in World War II by the Navajo Code Talkers. The Foundation further sets out to preserve and pass on the unique Navajo language and the Navajo Code Talkers legacy through public education in a place of honor, refuge, renewal and healing.

Private donations and corporate sponsorships are being sought for the National Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Veterans’ Center. For more information, visit:

The Young Marines is a national non-profit 501c(3) youth education and service program for boys and girls, age eight through the completion of high school. The Young Marines promotes the mental, moral and physical development of its members. The program focuses on teaching the values of leadership, teamwork and self-discipline so its members can live and promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.

Since the Young Marines' humble beginnings in 1959 with one unit and a handful of boys, the organization has grown to over 300 units with 11,000 youth and 3,000 adult volunteers in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Germany, Japan and affiliates in a host of other countries.

For more information, visit

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