FROM THE ARCHIVE

Navajo Code Talkers honored for contributions

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FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2001

For the first time in the short history of the Bush administration, the contributions of Native Americans were brought into the spotlight as lawmakers and President on Thursday honored the 29 original Navajo Code Talkers whose inventive military intelligence helped the United States win World War II.

In a heavily-attended, one-hour ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda, President George Bush bestowed Congressional gold medals on the four living Marines who helped develop the only unbreakable code used during the war. John Brown Jr., Chester Nez, Lloyd Oliver and Allen Dale June traveled to Washington, DC, personally to receive their medals, the highest civilian honor Congress can award, while Joe Palmer was represented by his son.

As Bush noted, the ceremony was a long time coming. Even though the project was declassified in 1968, the original Code Talkers, and the more than 300 who followed, had never been officially recognized for their exceptional service in the Pacific Theater up until yesterday.

The reason for the delay, Bush observed, was evident in the American government's own depiction of Native peoples. With a few short words and for the first time since taking office, the nation's leader acknowledged the forgotten legacy of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

"The paintings in this rotunda tell of America and its rise as a nation," he said.  "Among them are images of the first Europeans to reach the coast, and the first explorer to come upon the Mississippi."

"But before all these firsts on this continent, there were the first people.  They are depicted in the background, as if extras in the story. Yet, their own presence here in America predates all human record.  Before others arrived, the story was theirs alone."

The effect of Bush's words was evident in the families of the Code Talkers who traveled thousands of miles for the ceremony. Many were clearly moved by his recognition of not only their fathers, grandfathers, husbands, brothers and uncles but of Native peoples as a whole.

Honoree Nez, too, displayed his thanks. While being presented his award, he gave Bush a salute -- which was eagerly returned as the audience erupted in approval.

Even Bush himself appeared taken aback by the proceedings. When Brown spoke on behalf of the Code Talkers, he included a passage in Dineh, adding at the end: "Maybe Japan is listening."

Again, the audience cheered the remarks. A seemingly surprised Bush eventually joined in.

Along with the gold medals awarded to the original group, silver medals will go to the more than 300 successors. All the medals were possible due to legislation introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

In addition to helping win the war, the Code Talkers' contributions, said Bingaman, were "even more heroic given the cultural context in which they were operating. Experiencing alienation in their own homeland and discouraged from speaking their own language, they still stepped forward and developed the most significant and successful military code of the time."

Along with Bingaman, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), the only Native American in the Senate, gave remarks, as did New Mexico Congressman Tom Udall (D), who took a stab at speaking Navajo. House Speaker Dennis Hastert presided over the ceremony, which featured a benediction by the Reverend Daniel Coughlin, chaplain of the House and remarks by a Marine Corps representative.

Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb attended, representing the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Interior. Canadian Aboriginal actor Adam Beech, who portrays a Code Talker in the upcoming John Woo film "Windtalkers," was in the audience, joined by fellow star Nicolas Cage.

Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begay and Speaker Edward Begay were also in attendance.

After the ceremony, MGM held a reception in the Library of Congress for the Code Talkers and their families. The studio is premiering "Windtalkers" on November 9.

Get Bush's Remarks:
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Get Bingaman's Remarks:
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Get Udall's Remarks:
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Relevant Links:
Sen. Jeff Bingaman's Code Talkers' Site - http://bingaman.senate.gov/code_talkers
Harrison Lapahie Jr's Code Talkers' Site - http://www.lapahie.com/NavajoCodeTalker.html
Windtalkers - http://www.mgm.com/windtalkers
Navajo Code Talkers, Yahoo! - http://dir.yahoo.com/Social_Science/Communications/
Cryptology/Codes_and_Ciphers/Code_Talkers/Navajo

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