Native American Heritage

Image is National Archives Identifier 6681721 in the National Archives Catalog

Code Talkers

During World Wars I and II, the U.S. military needed to encrypt communications from enemy intelligence. American Indians had their own languages and dialects that few outside their tribes understood; therefore, their languages were ideal encryption mechanisms. Over the course of both wars, the Army and the Marine Corps recruited hundreds of American Indians to become Code Talkers. Records at the National Archives document the origins of this program and the group’s wartime contributions.

World War I

Stationed in France in 1918, Choctaw Indians from the 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Division, became the first Code Talkers. At the time, the enemy frequently intercepted Allied communications, inhibiting tactical plans and troop movements.

Leaders of the 142nd turned to American Indian soldiers in the regiment for help. They selected two Choctaw officers to supervise a communications system staffed by eighteen other tribal members. This team began transmitting battle messages in the Choctaw language. The enemy never broke their “code,” and Allied leaders deemed their efforts a success.

For the remainder of the war, the Army continued to enlist soldiers from other tribes as Code Talkers, including the Cheyenne, Comanche, Cherokee, Osage, and Yankton Sioux.

World War II

When the U.S. entered World War II, military leaders remembered the success of the Choctaw Code Talkers and enlisted new recruits from the Navajo, Kiowa, Hopi, Creek, Seminole, and other tribes to encrypt messages for the Army and Marine Corps.

Working with Navajo leaders, the Marine Corps initially recruited 29 Navajo men to train as Code Talkers in specially designed courses. By the end of the war, the Marines had over 400 Navajo men trained as Code Talkers, many of them serving in the Pacific Theater. The Army had similar training programs for its Code Talkers, who generally served in Europe and North Africa.

Just for Educators: Lesson Plan to teach about the enlistment of Navajo Indains as Code Talkers during WWII

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