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George James Sr., and George Boyd Willie Sr., Navajo code talkers from World War II, walk through the World War II gallery in the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Nov. 25, 2013. James and Willie are two of nearly 35 code talkers who are still living.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Sarah Luna

Navajo code talkers visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps

25 Nov 2013 | Lance Cpl. Sarah A. Luna

Four of nearly 35 Navajo Code talkers from World War II who are still living visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Nov. 25, 2013, to walk through and see the history they helped create.

The Navajo code talkers were a group of Marines in World War II who used a code that was created in the Navajo language, to transmit top secret messages.

“No one ever knew about [us] until 1974,” said Peter MacDonald, one of the Navajo Code Talkers who visited the museum, and president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association. “And now everyone can learn about our legacy.”

As they walked up to the wall dedicated to the Navajo Code Talkers, MacDonald’s aged hand pointed at a photo that almost looked like a mug-shot of Jimmie King, a Navajo Code Talker, and began telling stories of him. He also named the other Marines in black-and-white photos that captured men speaking the code to success in Iwo Jima.

“Oh yeah, Jimmie King, he was on the front line with Tom Singer,” said MacDonald as he clutched his cane. “We went to the same boarding school.”

In 1942 the Navajo language was suggested as a language to be used in the Marine Corps. The language had never been written, and it was believed that not many people, other than Navajos, spoke it.

MacDonald said that they could take a message, decode it and pass it on in 20 seconds, while others could take up to 40 minutes to decode a message.

According to Naval History and Heritage Command, Maj. Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer said, “were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”

After the war, code talkers were told to say that they were radiomen if anyone ever asked what they did in the Marine Corps. Although their role in the war was declassified in 1968, new about this long-time secret didn’t surface until 1974.

“After we learned the significance, the use of the language and how it helped the war, we felt really good,” said MacDonald.

Correspondent: sarah.a.garcia@usmc.mil