Told by grandfather, the narrator, a boy, Navajo tribal member Ned Begay attends an American-run boarding school,
where he discovers that speaking the Navajo (Diné) language is forbidden. Students who are caught speaking it are
punished, and in time some lose their ability to speak Navajo. While learning English and excelling in school, Begay
determines to never forget his native language. Later, he and other young Navajo men are recruited by the Marines to
become code talkers charged with sending secret messages in Navajo during World War II. Ned Begay demonstrates that
adherence to his culture— including the Navajo language, values, spirituality, and worldview—gives him the strength and
courage to fulfill his duties as a code talker while simultaneously inspiring him to pass these cultural traditions on to
Navajo Code Talkers and the Unbreakable Code
Pfc. Preston Toledo and Pfc. Frank Toledo,
Navajo cousins in a Marine artillery regiment
in the South Pacific, relay orders over a field
radio in their native tongue.
In the heat of battle, it is of the utmost importance that messages are delivered and received as quickly as possible. It is
even more crucial that these messages are encoded so the enemy does not know about plans in advance.
During World War II, the Marine Corps used one of the thousands of languages spoken in the world to create an
unbreakable code: Navajo.
World War II wasn’t the first time a Native American language was used to create a code.
During World War I, the Choctaw language was used in the transmission of secret tactical messages. It was instrumental
in a successful surprise attack against the Germans.
Germany and Japan sent students to the United States after World War I to study Native American languages and cultures,
such as Cherokee, Choctaw, and Comanche.
Because of this, many members of the U.S. military services were uneasy about continuing to use Code Talkers during
World War II. They were afraid the code would be easily cracked, but that was before they learned about the complexity
Philip Johnston’s Brainchild
In 1942, Philip Johnston was reading a newspaper article about an armored division in Louisiana that was attempting to
come up with another code using Native American languages. Johnston knew the perfect Native American language to