- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

President Bush yesterday awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the original Navajo "code talkers" for their success in relaying secret military messages that baffled the Japanese, saved thousands of lives and helped win World War II.
Mr. Bush said the 29 Navajos honored during a Capitol Rotunda ceremony "gave their country a service only they could give."
"In war, using their native language, they relayed secret messages that turned the course of battle. At home, they carried for decades the secret of their own heroism. Today, we give these exceptional Marines the recognition they earned so long ago," he said.
"To each of them, the Congress recognizes their individual service, bravely offered and flawlessly performed. Gentlemen, your service inspires the respect and admiration of all Americans, and our gratitude is expressed for all time, in the medals it is now my honor to present," Mr. Bush said.
Five of the 29 original class of 1942 code talkers are still living; four of them, including John Brown Jr., Chester Nez, Lloyd Oliver and Allen Dale June, attended the ceremony to accept the medals.
The fifth, Joe Palmer, was represented by his son, Kermit Palmer. Family members of the 24 deceased code talkers were also present.
The code was developed after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when it was discovered U.S. military codes had been broken by the Japanese.
The military recruited the first 29 Navajo code talkers, who took their native, unwritten language and created the code used by Marines in the Pacific theater.
While the Japanese were able to decipher codes used by the Army, the Marine code was never cracked.
"If it were not for the Navajos, the Marines would have never taken Iwo Jima. We all owe you a debt of gratitude," said Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado Republican and a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe.
The code talkers successfully transmitted more than 800 error-free military messages during the battles of Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan and Okinawa. Twelve were killed in the line of duty.
Previous codes were so complex that military leaders complained they took hours to decipher. The Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds.
"The very success of the code caused the Department of Defense to keep it classified for 23 years after the end of World War II, and there lies the reason it has taken so long to formally recognize these brave men," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat.
Mr. Bingaman sponsored the legislation authorizing the president to present the awards, the most distinguished given by Congress.
"If their achievements had been hailed at the conclusion of the war, proper honors would have been bestowed at that time. But the 'code talkers' were sworn to secrecy, an oath they kept and honored, but at the same time, one that robbed them of the very accolades and place in history they so rightly deserved," Mr. Bingaman said.
Because the Navajo language has no alphabet or symbols, a dictionary and numerous words for military terms were developed.
The secret messages sounded like a string of unrelated Navajo words. To decipher the message, the code talker would translate the Navajo word into its English equivalent and then used only the first letter to spell an English word.
For example, the word "Navy," in Navajo code is tsah (needle) wol-la-chee (ant) ah-keh-di-glini (victor) tsah-ah-dzoh (yucca).
Mr. Bingaman said the Navajos' accomplishments were even more heroic given their cultural restrictions in the Southwest.
"Experiencing alienation in their own homeland and discouraged from speaking their own language, they still stepped forward and developed the most significant and successful military code of the time," Mr. Bingaman said.
"We have experienced war and peace, and we know the value of our freedom," said John Brown Jr., an original code talker.
Mr. Brown reverted to his native tongue to complete his address, and thanked God for blessing his people with their language, a translator said.
Then in English, Mr. Brown explained: "In case the Japanese were listening."
Silver medals will be awarded later this year to the 400 code talkers who followed the original 29.

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