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Yuma Art Center exhibit honors WWII Navajo code talking veterans, heroes

By Lance Cpl. Aaron Diamant | | September 24, 2009

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An exhibit honoring the Marine Corps’ famous Navajo code talkers of World War II is on display at the Yuma Art Center until Oct. 3, 2009.

The traveling exhibit features more than 33 photographs and articles, including memorabilia from the families of local code talkers.

“This is an example of heroism and dedication for young Marines,” said Carolyn Bennett, executive director of the Yuma Arts Center.

Many of the photographs are from former Marine code talker Carl Gorman’s collection, who is now deceased.

“This is a tribute to the Navajo warriors of the second World War,” said Larry Yanez, a local artist and musician who played Navajo music at the reception. “I read about the Navajo code talkers as a kid. It’s an honor to be here.”

One of the Congressional Gold Medals awarded to the first 29 code talkers was also on display.

More than 400 code talkers received silver medals, which were awarded by an act of Congress in 2001.

“The Navajo language is very complex in terms of inflections,” said Kermit Palmer, the son of deceased Navajo code talker Joe Palmer.

The first 29 Navajos to graduate Marine recruit training in 1942 developed the code and created a dictionary of words to be used for common military terms.

Upon completing their training, the Navajo Marines were assigned to a unit deployed in the Pacific theater.

Navajo code talkers took part in every assault Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945.

They also served in every Marine division, Marine Raider battalion and Marine parachute unit.

They transmitted messages by telephone and radio in their native language, a code that the Japanese never broke, and the project remained classified until after the Vietnam War.

Because the language was only spoken on the Navajo reservation in the southwest, and had no written symbols, it was estimated that less than 30 non-Navajo people spoke the language, and none were Japanese.

The Japanese, who were skilled code breakers, were stumped by the Navajo language. The Japanese chief of intelligence, Lt. Gen. Seizo Arisue, said that while they were able to crack other codes used by the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps, they never cracked the Navajo code used by the Marines.


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