The celebration opened
with a prayer and cleansing ceremony by George Bluehorse and
the pledge of allegiance in English and Navajo by 4-year-old
Letters from schoolchildren thanking
Patterson for "saving the nation" were displayed on a table
along with photos of Patterson and a copy of Navajo Weapon:
The Navajo Code Talkers by Sally McClain.
In her book, McClain details the largely
unknown history of the Code Talkers and their contribution
to ultimate victory in the Pacific. Only about 50 of the
more than 400 men who were trained are alive.
In an interview Wednesday before
festivities began, Patterson recalled volunteering for
military service, training at Camp Pendleton on the
California coast between San Clemente and Oceanside and
being chosen for Code Talker training.
"It was intense," said Patterson, who was
among about 60 in the second class of Code Talkers. "We were
always busy. We were always training. There was no time for
anything else. We had to memorize everything."
Patterson and fellow Code Talkers
traveled by ship to Hawaii, then to the Marshall Islands for
their first assignment. He was proud to have served the
nation but was not outgoing about combat experiences.
Benally said his grandfather's reticence
is not surprising. He heard virtually nothing about war
exploits from his grandfather when he was a child, Benally
"While he was in the Pacific, his mother
died, and he wasn't able to see her one last time," Benally
said. "I think he was really hurt. He didn't like war, and I
guess he decided not to talk about it even in general."
Military use of Choctaw in World War I as
a code to transmit tactical messages and the Army's
experiment with Comanche after the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor resulted in limited success, McClain said. But it
laid the groundwork for the establishment of a Navajo-based
code by the Marines.
The first 29 Navajos were selected in May
1942. They went through basic training and then devised a
code based on their language that would be used in
transmitting information and orders by radio and telephone.
The code - many times faster than tedious mechanical
encryption in English, was revised a couple of times to
smooth out wrinkles.
Letters of the alphabet were designated
by Navajo words - ant for A; bear for B; cat for C. Military
vocabulary also was designated in Navajo - a dive bomber was
a chicken hawk; a battleship, a whale; a mine sweeper, a
Japanese linguists, who regularly cracked
English-language codes, were stumped. They never were able
to unscramble the Navajo transmissions used in battles that
took the Marines through an archipelago stretching from the
Marshall Islands to Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Tarawa,
Okinawa and Iwo Jima.
A quote by Patterson–"My language was
my weapon"–was featured prominently in a traveling
exhibition about the Code Talkers organized a few years ago
by the Smithsonian Institution.
Other possible factors contributing to
the relatively little the public knows about the Code
Talkers and the hesitancy of the brotherhood to step out of
the shadows: * The Code Talkers were ordered never to talk
about their work. * The government itself didn't declassify
the code until 1968. * No official public recognition was
received until the original 29 Code Talkers or their
relatives were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2001.