80 years later, Navajo Code Talker marks the band’s debut

PHOENIX (AP) — It’s been 80 years since the first Navajo Code Talkers joined the Marines, transmitting messages using a code based on their then-unwritten native language to confuse Japanese military cryptologists during World War II. – and Thomas H. Begay, one of the last living members of the band, still remembers the struggle.

“It was the hardest thing to learn,” Begay, 98, said Sunday at a ceremony in Phoenix marking the anniversary. “But we were able to devise a code that could not be broken by the enemy of the United States of America.”

Hundreds of Navajos were recruited by US Marines to serve as Code Talkers during the war. Begay is one of the three who is still alive to tell about it.

Code Talkers participated in every Marine-led assault in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, including Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima.

They sent thousands of error-free messages about Japanese troop movements, battlefield tactics, and other communications crucial to the ultimate outcome of the war.

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President Ronald Reagan established Navajo Code Talkers Day in 1982, and the August 14 holiday honors all tribes associated with the war effort.

It is also an Arizona State holiday and a Navajo Nation holiday on the vast reservation that occupies parts of northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and southeastern east of Utah.

Begay and his family traveled from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Phoenix for Sunday’s event at Wesley Bolin Plaza where a Navajo Code Talker statue is on display.

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