Utah lawmakers have set aside a day in August to honor the Navajo Code Talkers, a group of World War II service members who used their tribal language to confound enemy combatants in the Pacific theater.
A resolution that passed unanimously Monday on both sides of the Utah Legislature dedicates Aug. 14, 2019, to the Code Talkers, a group that “saved thousands of lives and helped win World War II.”
A delegation from the Navajo Nation, including President Jonathan Nez, stood on the floor of both chambers as the votes took place, alongside blown-up photos of the Code Talkers.
“The Navajo Code Talkers leave a legacy of service that continues to inspire others to achieve excellence and instill values of pride, discipline and honor,” said Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, the House sponsor of the resolution.
Sen. Jani Iwamoto, who advanced the resolution for her chamber, said the top-secret communication based on the Navajo language “was the only military code in modern history that was never broken by an enemy.”
In a companion bill, Iwamoto, D-Holladay, proposes renaming sections of U.S. Highways 162, 163 and 191 through San Juan County in honor of the Navajo Code Talkers,
Nez praised the legislation for raising awareness about Navajos' contributions to the U.S. effort in World War II.
“It will have a larger goal for teaching not just about Navajo people, but all people, about the great contributions that people of color had in our county,” Nez said at the American Indian Caucus Day meeting Monday at the Capitol complex. “We want to thank Utah lawmakers for approving this legislation to honor not just Code Talkers but all our warriors, our veterans, even the warriors that once fought against the U.S. government. They also need to be remembered.”
The unbreakable code developed by the Navajo service members was used to transmit messages for the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942 to 1945. Eight of the original 400 Code Talkers are still living: Fleming Begaye, Thomas H. Begay, William Brown, John Kinsel, Peter MacDonald Sr., John Pinto, Samuel Sandoval and Joe Vandever.
“I hope you will take back to Mr. McDonald our love and appreciation for his service and what he represents," Gov. Gary Herbert told Nez at the caucus meeting, “not just for what he did himself but what he represents ... And not only the contributions of the Navajo Nation but many other Native Americans throughout our history, serving in our military and making our country stronger and better.”
The Code Talkers sent more than 800 error-free messages across two days during the critical Battle of Iwo Jima, helping the United States win a key victory in the Pacific. The concurrent resolution quoted Major Howard Conner, 5th Marine Division signal officer for the battle landing, saying that “were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”
“We as a nation owe such a debt of gratitude to the Navajo Code Talkers. They changed the course of World War II,” Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, said ahead of Monday’s House vote.
A Utah Senate news release stated that more than a dozen Code Talkers were killed in action, with about a dozen more wounded.
The Navajo code was declassified in 1968, and in 2001, then-President George W. Bush and Congress awarded the Code Talkers Congressional Medals.
Reporter Brian Maffly contributed to this report.