The Smithsonian Institution has announced that its National Museum of the American Indian will host a ceremony for an award by the NSA honoring the Native American code talkers. The National Security Agency is bestowing a place in the Crytologic Hall of Fame for these brave men. The codes developed by the code talkers, based on their tribal languages, were never deciphered by American war adversaries. The ceremony will occur on April 8th.
The 2002 film Windtalkers starring Nicholas Cage and Adam Beach allowed the work of the code talks to reach the general public. Cage starred as a hard driven soldier ordered to guard Beach and keep him from being captured by the Japanese in the battle for Saipan. Cage’s character thought little of the assignment until he got to know Beach’s character, Ben Yahzee, and his code talking compatriots. The story told in the film brings to light the bravery of the men recruited as the code talkers. The special guard was necessary to prevent the enemy from extracting the code from a code talker unfortunate enough to be captured.
The special tribute by the NSA is unusual because other similar awards have only been made to individual honorees. This award is to the entire group of code talkers. Several hundred Native Americans enlisted in the armed forces during World War II. The battlefield commanders realized they could use the Native American soldiers to their advantage by communicating in code similar to their native speech. This gave the American forces a tactical advantage in close warfare as they could communicate in ways unavailable to enemy ears. The National Security Agency award recognizes those whose efforts helped make a difference in warfare. The award ceremony to be hosted by the Smithsonian Institution honoring the code talkers will create a lasting legacy for all to see at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Many family members of the code talkers were unaware of the nature of their service for years. The Marines required that they swear to remain silent regarding their code talking endeavors. Only in 1998 were the Native American service members allowed to speak of their service. Many family members were surprised and proud of the talkers’ accomplishments. The Navajo code talkers each received a Congressional Silver Medal to commemorate their achievements on the battlefield in 2001. The congressional award helped serve to spread the word, even if the code talkers themselves were not spreading the news.
The NSA is a large governmental organization in the news quite a bit this past year. The agency spying activities include monitoring domestic cell phone traffic. This intrusion into the everyday lives of all Americans has been the subject of much debate, much to the chagrin of the usually super secretive agency.
Among the few code related activities the agency will speak of without prompting or a subpoena are the exploits of the code talkers. This group of men will be receiving a long delayed honor at the Smithsonian Institution hosted ceremonial event. Only a handful of the code talkers remain. The exact number is unclear due to the secretive nature of their service. The survivors who do make the trek to the ceremony will finally receive the NSA’s salute.
By William Costolo