During World War II, Americans needed a code that could not be broken by the Japanese. Because of its complexity and the fact that the language remained unwritten, Navajo vocabulary was ideal to transmit messages across radio and telephone. “The U.S. Marine Corps enlisted 400 Navajos. Three hundred went into combat,” recalled Samuel Tsosie. Tsosie, a Navajo from Tolani Lake, Ariz., a small town on the Navajo Indian reservation where he was born in May 1925, was one of the "Navajo talkers" who have been portrayed in movies. He is in the Hi-Line area, talking to students at schools about his experiences in the war. He is accompanied by his daughter, Mellissa Oats, and his nephew, Lorenzo Yazi, both of Box Elder. On Thursday, the Rocky Boy community honored Tsosie, a member of the first Marine Division. Tsosie gave a personalized account of his experience as a Navajo Code Talker at an assembly at Rocky Boy High School. Students were inspired by Tsosie’s unique contributions. High school students Taylor Small and Blaine Yellowtail were impressed with Tsosie’s many medals that hung from his Marine Corps uniform. He had received about 10, he said, including the Congressional Silver Metal awarded by the president of the United States in 2001. The Arizona State Senate and House of Representatives recognized him for the preservat ion of democracy and defense of the U.S.A. in 2002. The Navajo Tribal council honored Tsosie for his "valiant conduct." Tsosie, whose occupation in the Marine Corps remained classified until 1968, is 85 and one of 100 code talkers who remain to tell about the experience. He joined the Marines in November 1942 and returned to the United States Jan. 1, 1946. During that time, Tsosie said, “The code was top secret. Nobody talked about it. The only ones who knew was the commission officer and the head boss. "When we received a message, we wrote it down and gave it to headquarters. It took about 35 minutes to set up, send it over, decode and write out orders.” The code itself was never written down. In 1942, 400 to 500 Navajo words were used to communicate across the wire. "We had a computer,” he joked, and pointed to his head, “a built-in one.” The code, which by the end of the war contained nearly 600 words, remained undecipherable by enemy code-breakers. He spoke positively about joining the military. “You learn a lot. It will help you understand yourself and other people,” he said. After the assembly, students Loren Standing Rock and Chontay Standing Rock honored Tsosie with a traditional victory song. Rocky Boy student Colten Galbavy said he was pleased to shake Tsosie’s hand, adding that the school assembly “was both historical and educational.” Tsosie said he is proud of his native tongue and told the students of Rocky Boy High School about the value of knowing their own native language.
Rocky Boy honors code talker
Arizona man played key role in WWII effort
Published: Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
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