PARKERSBURG - Local U.S. Marine Corps veterans honored a special group of Marines who played an important part in the war in the Pacific during World War II.
The Wood County Marine Corps League held a special ceremony Sunday at the City Park Pavilion to honor the U.S. Marines who served in WWII as part of the Navajo code talkers, known today as the Wind Talkers.
"Seventy years ago there were 29 Navajo Indians that the U.S. Marines recruited to write a secret code during World War II," said Mike Francis of the Wood County Marine Corps League. "The code they wrote was never cracked by the Japanese.
The Kootaga Indian Dancers give a special dance presentation Sunday at the City Park Pavilion during a special ceremony organized by the Wood County Marine Corps League to honor and remember the Navajo code talkers who served in World War II. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)
Retired history professor Bob Cordell talks about the history of the Navajo code talkers who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II during a special ceremony Sunday at the City Park Pavilion. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)
"Eventually around 400 Navajo code talkers served during World War II."
Of those, only 35 are still alive today living in Arizona.
"They saved countless Marine lives in the Pacific during World War II in the island hopping campaign," Francis said.
"We decided we wanted to do something to honor them.
"The Marine Corps is famous for remembering our history. This is something we decided to do to honor their service and sacrifice."
Over 100 people came to Sunday's ceremony, which included comments from retired history professor Bob Cordell and a dance presentation by the Kootaga Indian Dancers.
Most of the remaining code talkers are in their 90's, live out west and none could attend Sunday's event, but Francis said it was still important for people to remember what they did.
The ceremony also commemorated the 30th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. Congress officially designating a day to honor these soldiers on Aug. 14.
Cordell talked about the Navajo nation at the time, and its support of the U.S. government during wartime. He talked about Philip Johnston, a engineer, who first proposed to the U.S. government in 1942 the idea of using the Navajo language as a code to be used in the Pacific during WWII. He was able to set up a demonstration.
"It was decided that they would go through boot camp," Cordell said. "They would be Marines first and code talkers second."
After training, they were taken to Camp Elliott, north of San Diego, Calif., and were locked in a secure facility in order to develop the code and how to keep it secure.
"The Navajo code talkers had to win the trust and confidence at every level," Cordell said. "In many cases, their mission was not understood.
"They were different. They were treated different than others. When they were given the chance, their worth and value was proven in a hurry."
They were able to prove themselves at Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands, Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and throughout the Pacific during the war.
"Given the chance, they made a difference," Cordell said. "At each step they did their job with courage."
Many did not understand who the Navajo were, believing they might be Japanese-Americans. Others thought their radio talk was Japanese.
Cordell said the Navajo code talkers made a significant contribution to the taking of Okinawa.
"The code the Navajo used got the ammunition where it was needed, got fresh food where it was needed, coordinated Marine and Naval fire support and more," he said. "They met the challenge to be Marines."
At each step, they were in great danger because the Japanese could detect where broadcasting was being done and fire upon it.
"They did befuddle the Japanese as the code was never broken," Cordell said.
The code talkers were so important to U.S. operations, many stayed on station throughout the war as others rotated in and out. Their codes were so important and they were too valuable.
After the war, they were told not to discuss what they did as the code might be needed again. By the 1960's, the story began being told by Marine groups who wanted to recognize their contribution. Their work was declassified by 1968 and people began recognizing what they did.
"The courage displayed by the Navajo code talkers is indeed a special chapter in the proud history of the United States Marine Corps," Cordell said.