Old Ned

Arizona Historymakers™

Arizona Historical Society

Carl Gorman, Navajo Code Talker

1907 - 1998

Honored as Historymaker 2005

Transmittor of Messages in Code during World War II

Oral History Transcript:

Video by Pam Stevenson, Agave Productions Inc., for Historical League

Navajo Code Talkers are credited with helping the United States win the battle for the Pacific in World War II. Beginning in 1942, Navajos who were fluent in both Navajo and English were recruited from boarding schools and communities throughout the reservation. “We just figured they were taking us into the Marine Corps and everybody wanted to go after the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor,” said Code Talker Merril Sandoval. “We didn’t know we were going to be Code Talkers,” explained Joe Kellwood, “I just put in for scout, or anything when I enlisted.”

The young Navajos were sent to Camp Pendleton, the U.S. Marine training base near San Diego, where a special school was established for Navajo recruits. There the first group of twenty-nine used the Navajo language to devise a communication code. They created a dictionary using Navajo words as letters of the alphabet and for military terms. The dictionary and code words all had to be memorized during training.

“We couldn’t be carrying any references out there in battle, so we memorized everything,” explains Sandoval, who volunteered at age seventeen. “At that age, I guess we were pretty good at memorizing.”

Code Talkers took part in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific Theater. Their primary job was to transmit messages in code by radio and telephone about troop movements, tactics, and vital battlefield orders. The Code Talkers were on the front lines when the U.S. troops landed on Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.

The Japanese were proud of their skill in breaking codes, but they were baffled by the Navajo
language. The Navajo code was so valuable in winning World War II that it remained a classified secret until the late 1960s, and only in recent years have the men who served as Navajo Code Talkers received the awards and recognition they deserve. Many of the Code Talkers are modest about their role. “To me, I think it was the language,” said Code Talker, Sam Billison. “It wasn’t us, we just used it. It’s the Navajo language that did the work, and I think it’s the language that should be honored.”

The Navajo Code Talkers are part of a long tradition of Native Americans who have proudly served in the U. S. military. “To all the American Indians, North America is our country,” said Billison, “that’s why we fight for it. We call it our Mother Country, so when somebody tries to take your mother away, you fight for it, you protect it.”

Between 1942 and 1945, more than four hundred Navajos served as Code Talkers. Today less than a hundred of the Navajo Code Talkers are still alive. The Navajo Code Talker Association works to tell the true story of the Code Talkers and to promote education for future generations of Navajos.