Frustrated with the Japanese uncanny ability to break American code, the United States began a search for an unbreakable code in 1942. A gentleman named Phillip Johnston is credited with the idea of using the Navajo language as a military code. Johnston grew up with the Navajo, the son of a missionary, and was one of only 30 non- Navajo, at the time, who spoke the Navajo language. Johnston presented his idea to the Marines who were skeptical, but willing to pilot a program with thirty men.
Recruiters visited the Navajo reservation. Thirty men enlisted excited to serve their country. These men had to speak both English and Navajo fluently. Some who were too young lied about their age to have the opportunity to serve their country. Others who were too old did the same. Of the thirty men who originally enlisted one dropped out, leaving 29 original code talkers.
These men attended basic training, learning a way of life completely foreign to them. They persisted, knowing they could play an important role in the history of their country. After basic training these 29 men developed the unbreakable code. Using Navajo words to describe military terms, (i.e. sparrow hawk for dive bomber) the code talkers developed a list of 411 terms. In addition, so that any word could be transmitted without mistake, they developed a code for the alphabet. Each letter was represented by a corresponding Navajo word. Letters that were used most commonly were given three words to prevent decoding by sheer repetition. For example the letter A was represented by Wol-La Chee meaning Ant, Be-La-Sana meaning Apple and Tse-Nill meaning Axe. Prior to use in the field the code was tested on Navajo who did not know the new language. None could break it.
Upon completion of this initial task, 27 men entered battle with the new code memorized, while 2 remained behind to train more Navajo code talkers. Skeptical at first, field commanders were amazed at the speed and accuracy with which the code talkers could relay messages. What once took up to hours to achieve, now took minutes. In fact during the battle for Iwo Jima more that 800 vital messages were sent via code talkers.
Navajo code talkers served in WWII from 1942 until 1945. In total 420 Navajo marines were trained as code talkers. It has been said that without the code talkers the war may have lasted much longer. Indeed the Japanese never broke the code. The Navajo code talkers returned home without the fanfare of heroes. No one knew of their contribution to the war efforts because the code was considered classified information until 1968.