Bush to honor Navajo Code Talkers
Facebook Twitter Email
MONDAY, JULY 23, 2001

The 29 original Navajo Code Talkers, whose efforts in the Pacific Theater helped win World War II, will receive a long overdue honor when President Bush awards them Congressional gold medals at a Washington, D.C., ceremony on Thursday.

The ceremony, which will takes place in the Capitol Rotunda, caps off years of lobbying by Code Talkers and their supporters, including Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). A bill he introduced to authorize the medals, which are the highest award Congress can give to civilians, was finally signed into law by President Bill Clinton last year.

Although interest in the Code Talkers has picked up in recent years, the original 29 Marines who developed the code and the more than 200 Navajo soldiers who followed in their footsteps have long been ignored for their military service. Using the Dine language, they created the only unbreakable code which helped save the lives of numerous Americans at the battles of Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Okinawa -- among others -- in the Pacific.

But the project was kept under wraps by the government until 1968, when it was declassified. Since then, details about the code and the importance it played have slowly emerged, leading to accolades but little official recognition until now.

The majority of the original 29, though, aren't alive to receive their new awards. Only five are left and four will be present at the ceremony -- the fifth is in poor health and will be represented by his son, said Bingaman's office.

Originally scheduled to take place last week, the ceremony was delayed in order to accommodate Bush's schedule, said Bingaman spokesperson Jude McCartin. Bush was in Europe last week to meet with leaders and to attend the Group of Eight summit.

"It's really great the President is going to be here," said McCartin. "It shows how important this award is."

During a Memorial Day commemoration speech in Arizona, Bush mentioned the contributions the Code Talkers' made to the United States.

"In the Pacific theater, these men made a brilliant and legendary contribution to victory in the second world war," he said. "Countless American lives were spared because our military could communicate in the unbreakable code of the Navajo language."

"In a time of great need, our country was served bravely, and served well by the Navajo," he added.

The Congressional medals are 24 karat gold, said McCartin. Each is dedicated to the recipient. For those not living, the medal will be presented to his family.

Bingaman's bill authorized Congressional silver medals to be awarded to the soldiers who followed in the footsteps of the original 29. Among the recipients will be former Navajo Nation President Peter MacDonald, whose prison sentence was commuted by Clinton in January.

Hopi, Comanche, Oneida and Ojibwe soldiers also lent their languages to the World War II campaign.

Filmed in Hawaii for a reported cost of more than $100 million, MGM will be premiering its "Windtalkers" movie, directed by John Woo and starring Nicolas Cage as the Marine assigned to guard Code Talker Adam Beach, on November 9. A preview will be shown this week for participants in this week's ceremony.

Relevant Links:
Bingaman's Code Talkers' Site -
Harrison Lapahie Jr's Code Talkers' Site -
Windtalkers -

Related Stories:
Principi salutes Native veterans (2/23)
Peter MacDonald released from prison (1/22)
Recognition of other Code Talkers sought (1/08)
Navajo Code Talkers to get high honors (12/19)
Stars shine at NAMMYs (11/13)
Original Code Talker dies (6/12)
Code Talker movie breaks the bank (6/12)
Code Talkers proposal approved (6/09)
Navajo GI Joe hits stores (5/22)
Bill would award medals to Code Talkers (4/13)