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The Navajo Code Talkers

Many argue that Christopher Columbus founded America. But, how is it possible to find a land that was already inhabited? Our Nation’s history is riddled with tales of persecution, however none is as profound as the tale of the Native Americans, deprived of their land, forced to live on reservations, and deprived of nearly everything they once knew.  Despite this history, many Native American individuals showed courage in the face of fear and made alliances even when it wasn’t earned.

Communication is an essential component in any working relationship and war is no different. During World War II, it was essential that each battalion and each ship stay in contact with one another.  Every move was calculated, every attack held a secret.  Should the enemy become aware of these attacks, the US would have lost the element of surprise.  Many of these secret plans were protected by Native American codes or encryptions.

Original US military codes were often broken, and this propelled a young man named Philip Johnston to devise a code that he felt would be unbreakable. This new code was based on the Navajo language.  During World War II, Native American men once treated as America’s under-dogs were needed, and although they had been forced to endure countless tragedies at the hands of their own government, they answered the call of duty. 

This lesson explores how Native American individuals known as the “code breakers” influenced American history and showed love to a Nation that stole their own histories.  It includes classroom instruction plans that will help your students explore the role of the code breakers in the War, and their impact on our Nation’s history.

Richard P. Holmes

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