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A new state holiday in Arizona will honor the Navajo Code Talkers whose language formed a secret code to save lives

The story of the Navajo Code Talkers, who played a vital role in US victories during World War II by using their native language to send coded messages, will be memorialized in Arizona with a new state holiday.

Governor Doug Ducey signed legislation on Monday that will honor the Code Talkers every year on August 14 or the following Sunday if the 14th does not fall on a Sunday.

While Ducey has previously issued proclamations recognizing Navajo Code Talkers Day, which President Ronald Reagan originally established in 1982, this new legislation secures the day as an official state holiday.

“The Navajo Code Talkers are American heroes,” Ducey said. “They assisted on every major operation involving the U.S. Marines in the Pacific theatre, using their native language to come up with an unbreakable code.”

An unwritten language

More than 400 Navajo Code Talkers answered the call to serve during World War II. Only a handful are still alive, and none of the original 29 Code Talkers who invented the code based on their language are still alive. The last of that group died in 2014.

The first 29 Navajo tribe recruits to attend boot camp in California in 1942 created the code from their native language. After training, the Navajos used their newly memorized code during major battles in the Pacific to send information on tactics, troop movements, and orders over the radio and telephone.

The Navajo language was spoken by few non-Navajos and was not written, making the new code that much more difficult to decipher. While Japan was able to crack US Army codes, the Japanese never broke the Navajo code used by the Marines.

At Iwo Jima, six Code Talkers exchanged more than 800 error-free messages, according to the Navy & Marine Corps WWII Commemorative Committee.

“Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima,” Maj. Howard Connor, the signal officer of the Navajos, said.

Delayed recognition

The military did not declassify the top-secret program until 1968, long after the Navajos helped the American war effort. It took several more decades before the program received wider recognition.

The Code Talkers were honored at the Pentagon in 1992. In 2001, President George W. Bush presented the 29 original Code Talkers with the Congressional Gold Medal, and in 2002, their story was the focus of the action movie “Windtalkers.”

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