by BETSEY BRUNER 05/28/2004
28 May 2004
It sounded like gibberish
to the Japanese in World War II -- the Navajo-inspired code used
by the U.S. Marines in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. Today, the
message is coming in loud and clear: Cherish and honor our last
remaining code talkers while we still can.
Five local Navajo code
talkers -- Arthur Hubbard Sr., Dan Akee, Alfred Peaches, Teddy
Draper Sr. and Lloyd Oliver -- are being honored tonight at a
public reception at 5:30 at the Little America Hotel.
The reception is part of
the long weekend of festivities that mark the dedication of the
National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Saturday,
and Memorial Day on Monday.
About 540 Navajos served
as Marines, and from 375 to 420 of those trained as code talkers.
The code talkers took part in every Marine assault -- Guadalcanal,
Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima -- and were a decisive factor in the
ultimate victory of the Allies in the Pacific Theater, providing a
code that the Japanese never broke.
Despite their critically
important service, they were not recognized for their achievements
until being honored at the Pentagon on Sept. 17, 1992.
Most Navajo code talkers
do not think of themselves as heroes.
Ronnie Towne knows about
the modesty of the Navajo code talkers; her father, Arthur Hubbard
Sr., was a code talker instructor during the war.
"He's pretty much
the way most of the code talkers are," she said. "They
are extremely humble. They understand the significance of what
they did, but they don't see the individual as being a hero. They
were just men out to do a job."
Hubbard, 92, downplays
the importance of his code talker service.
"My experience as
code talker was very, oh, not so exciting as those who went out to
the different islands," Hubbard said in a phone interview
Thursday. "I went through the boot training and combat
training, and then when we lined up for assignment after combat
training, one by one, the boys that I trained with got sent out to
different islands. I, alone, remained at Camp Pendleton all
afternoon. Next day, they sent an jeep for me and sent me to San
Diego. I trained the young men, Navajo boys that were inducted at
the time. I gave them an idea of what the Navajo language could do
as far as being used as a code-talking facility."
Towne said her father, at
24, was one of the oldest Navajo in boot camp.
"They called him
'grandpa,'" she said.
Hubbard, who has a slight
hearing problem but is otherwise in good physical condition, keeps
his mind sharp by doing jigsaw and crossword puzzles, his daughter
Towne said there are
about 350 code talkers alive today. They are in their late 70s to
mid-80s and most of them live in northern Arizona and New Mexico,
with a few in Utah, California and South Dakota. Towne serves as a
volunteer, coordinating the public appearances of local code
talkers throughout the year. About 25 men who are in good health
regularly volunteers to appear at ceremonies, she said.
Although she grew up with
them as a child, Towne didn't realize the significance of the code
talkers' contribution to world peace until she saw the public
reaction to the movie "Windtalker."
"They've become an
extremely important treasure," she said. "It would be a
shame if they were not recognized. It's passing along the history,
which is primarily the Native American tradition, making the
children realize how precious life is and how important they are
as human beings. It's all part of the balance of nature, the way
it's supposed to be."
Five code talkers from
the Navajo reservation are going to Washington, D.C., for the
dedication of the memorial, Hubbard said. He will be traveling to
the Flagstaff ceremonies tonight, and is enthusiastic about the
"I think it's
something that gives recognition and being that it's located in
Washington D.C., why that makes it a little bit more feeling of
being recognized nationally by the powers that be, not so much the
general public, but the officials that work in Washington,"
The original 29 code
talkers received gold medals, but the rest of them, including
Hubbard, received silver, he said.
Hubbard attends Navajo
Code Talkers Association meetings each month in Gallup, N.M. There
are only about 25 code talkers at the meetings, but there are 107
dues-paying members, he said.
"I happened to know
a good number of the men who were out at the islands," he
said. "I knew them from contact here on the Navajo
In attention to the
Little America reception tonight, the five northern Arizona code
talkers also will also participate in honor ceremonies at noon and
5 p.m. Saturday night at Fort Tuthill at the Coconino County
Fairgrounds as part of "Sacred Hoop," a four-day powwow
to honor and connect warriors of past and present.
Native Americans who used their language to preserve
democracy," said John Davison, National Dedication Day
Observance powwow coordinator. "During WW II a select group
of Navajo men used their language to development a code that was
unbreakable at the time. In doing so, it saved the lives of
countless American servicemen in the Pacific Theater. In addition,
there's actually 17 tribes that used their languages in the United
States military. The Choctaw were very influential during WW I,
and again in WW II. There were also Comanche, Hopi, Lakota,
Choctaw who used their languages for the U.S. military, not
necessarily in codes."
Davison said that Native
Americans also played important roles in the building of the
Navajo Ordnance Depot and in the mining of uranium used in atomic
"We're going to
honor veterans of all eras," he said.
The role of the warrior
will be celebrated in veterans honor gourd dances, drum sessions,
traditional powwow and contest powwows.
© 2004 Arizona