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50 Years Ago: Code talkers’ role revealed, next task is to find them

It’s only been a few months since the world was made aware of what some 400 Navajos did to help the Allies defeat the Japanese during World War II. And the Navajo Code Talkers are beginning to realize that a grateful nation wants to thank them.

Since the news was made public in August, almost every newspaper in the country has published accounts of how the Japanese were never able to break the code that used the Navajo language to send messages between military units in the Pacific. Many Navajo Nation chapters have held private events honoring the code talkers in their communities.

A few of the code talkers, like Carl Gorman, were invited to speak at various functions and told their stories to captive audiences. An announcement was made this week that the group would receive the first of many awards for their contributions to the war effort.

The U.S. Marine Corp’s 4th Division released a statement saying that during their reunion this coming June in Chicago, a special ceremony will be held honoring the group and a special medallion was created for the event.

Not all of the Navajo Code Talkers were invited to attend the reunion. Instead, each of the other five Marine Corps divisions was asked to select a code talker from their division to represent all of the others. However, all code talkers who were part of the 4th Division have been invited.

A spokesman for the 4th Division said efforts are being made to contact as many of the code talkers as possible, but this may not be an easy task since no one has kept tabs on the code talkers since they were discharged. They have names and where they were recruited from but very few have addresses since they lived on the reservation. The organizers of the event said they contacted tribal leaders who told them they also did not have an official list or contact information.

Tribal leaders also questioned whether sending letters to the addresses they gave when they were recruited would work. The best recourse may be to go through the chapters but while each chapter had an address, only a handful have telephones so any effort to track down the code talkers may take weeks or months.

Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai said he may have contact information for a dozen or so code talkers and information on the whereabouts of others, so efforts will start this week to track down as many as possible.

The division plans to release the names of code talkers to the Navajo Times and local radio stations as part of the search. The medallion has been described as being “impressive” was engraved by the Franklin Mint and is based on a famous painting done by Western artist Joe Grandee. It is three inches wide and a quarter inch thick.

In other news, the BIA came to the defense of Dick Hardwick, the managing editor of the Navajo Times, who has come under attack by Ted Mitchell, the controversial director of DNA, the legal aid service on the reservation. Mitchell accused Hardwick and the tribal newspaper of siding with the tribe in the ongoing dispute between the members of the Navajo Tribal Council and DNA.

Graham Holmes, the Navajo area director for the BIA, pointed out that Hardwick is still being paid by the BIA and is on loan to the tribe while tribal leaders search for someone to take over the editor position on a permanent basis. “Despite our urgings for the tribe to find someone for the past year, they have not done so,” he said, adding that the BIA has no plans to bring him back until the tribe says they no longer need him.

Holmes defended Hardwick saying that he reads the paper and has seen no evidence that Hardwick is crusading on the behalf of any faction on the reservation. “The tribal newspaper under the previous editor was propaganda for the ruling tribal government,” said Holmes, adding that since Hardwick was named to the position in 1967, the paper has not come under attack by any group until Mitchell released his statement last week.

Holmes said his office is very satisfied with the way Hardwick is running the tribal newspaper and gives him part of the credit for the relationship between the BIA and the tribal government, which has never been better.

And, finally, the Navajo Times reported on problems at the BIA’s Intermountain School in Utah after students held a 30-minute demonstration, which resulted in several students being injured and reports of property damage. The school has 2,100 high school students, most of whom are Navajo.

Police reported that the disturbance began about 9 p.m. as students were leaving a basketball game and the power went out all through Brigham City.

As darkness settled over the campus, police reported that a large group of the male students began acting out, resulting in numerous windows on campus being broken and cars dented. Then a small group of students tried to break into two female dormitories and that is when the fun and games started getting negative. Police reported that two females were sexually assaulted and another girl had her arm broken when she jumped from a window to get away from those chasing her.

Counselors and school officials got the situation under control within 30 minutes and all students were required to go to their dorms and stay there in the dark. Power was restored about 30 minutes later.

School officials estimated that the total damage was about $600 and the students agreed to raise the money to pay for it. As for the crimes that were committed, school authorities as well as the FBI began investigations to determine who was responsible for the violence and school officials said many of the students have provided information that may lead to arrests.

About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.