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An Indian Technique
Code Talkers
Use of the Native Indian Tongue for Secure Communications

[Extracted from OCMH Study 57, Military-Connected Contributions of American Indians to the Culture Heritage of the Nation, Prepared by William Gardner Bell]

Secure and rapid communications are essential to effective operation on the battlefield, and military forces are working constantly to develop communications systems, methods, and techniques which will insure that an enemy does not gain access to friendly intentions. While , cryptography is one of the standard means of maintaining security, it takes time--a critical element in military operations--to encode and decode messages from prearranged codes, and codes are subject to being broken. The most desirable method is direct and open on-the-spot transmission by voice over telephone or radio, and such a procedure must recognize that the enemy is always listening in.

To confound the enemy, American forces in both World Wars used Indian personnel and their unique languages to insure secure communications. In World War I in France, the 142d Infantry Regiment had a company of Indians who spoke 26 different languages or dialects, only four or five of which had been reduced to writing. Two Indian officers were selected to supervise a communications system staffed by Choctaw Indians. They were used in the regiment's operations in October 1918, in the Chufilly-Chardeny zone, transmitting in their native tongue a variety of open. voice messages, relating to unit movements, which the enemy, who was completely surprised in the action, obviously could not break.

In World War II in both major theaters of war, the U. S. Army used Indians in its signal communications operations. A group of 24 Navajos was assembled to handle telephone communications, using voice codes in their native tongue, between the Air Commander in the Solomon Islands and various airfields in the region. The U. S. Marine Corps also used Navajo code talkers extensively in the Pacific Theater. And in Europe, the 4th Signal Company of the Army's 4th Infantry Division was assigned 16 Comanches for employment as voice radio operators to transmit and receive messages in their own unwritten language.

The Armed Services ran special training courses both in the United States and in the operational theaters to instruct Indians in the basic communications techniques and to develop standard military phraseology and common military terms for the languages and dialects where such words may never have existed. The success of the experiment in using Indian code talkers is attested to in the reports of military units and commanders in the several services.

For further reading: Indians in the War. U. S. Department of the Interior. Office of Indian Affairs, Chicago, November 1945.