When people think of code talkers they likely think of the Navajo in World War II. And that’s for good reason.
The U.S. Marine Corps recruited more than 400 Navajo to be code talkers in 1941 and 1942 during the war – the original group numbered about 30.
Their skill would also be used in the Korean and Vietnam Wars as well.
But the Navajo weren’t the only ones and they weren’t the first.
There were code talkers from at least 16 tribes who served in the Marines, Army and Navy. In addition to the Navajo, the list includes Seminole, Assiniboine, Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Hopi, Lakota and Meskwaki.
The Cherokee were the first code talkers in World War I and they paved the way for those who came after, like the Choctaw (WWI) and Navajo (WWII).
Their stories are a central focus of the recently published book “Tales of the Mighty Code Talker.” The publication, by Reycraft Books, came out last year and is designed for younger readers and students.
To the rescue
U.S. military codes on troop movement and the like were being breached by the Germans in WWI and by the Japanese in WWII, causing causalities and chaos.
Code talkers developed an unbreakable code language used to send information on tactics, movements and orders over the radio and telephone that was indecipherable to the enemy.
It was considered a key factor in many American military victories, including at Iwo Jima and Saipan.
According to a congressional law honoring the program, at Iwo Jima, code talkers transmitted more than 800 indecipherable messages in 48 hours.
One of the reasons it worked so well is that Native languages were not written down; therefore, no one could steal or study it. And the languages were complex – Choctaw alone has 26 dialects.
To overcome nonexistent counterparts for certain English words, the code talkers got creative. They would substitute “corn” for “battalion” and “stone” for “grenade,” for example.
Ironically, while it was the code talkers that helped to end WWI and WWII, many Native Americans were historically punished, especially in the late 19th century, for speaking their native tongue.
As code talkers they’d become heroes for using it.
“Tales of the Mighty Code Talker” takes the reader along with different Native American characters who are going through varied scenarios during the wars.
The book is presented in a sleek, comic book-style that appeals to the younger set, although adults would enjoy it as well.
Two of the main characters are Annumpa Luma, of the Choctaw code talkers, and PFC Joe, who is Navajo.
The first part of the book also tells about the Cherokee code talker’s contribution to ending WWI.
Wiley Blevins, the editorial director of Reycraft Books, said all of the writers and illustrators of “Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers” are Native American.
Contributors are Lee Francis IV, Roy Boney Jr. (Cherokee), Arigon Starr (Kickapoo), Jonathan Nelson (Navajo), Renee Nejo (Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians), and Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva).
Stephanie Seemann, the Florida account manager of Reycraft developer Benchmark Education, said she is interested in growing its collection of books by Native American authors.
“It is our goal to have authentic stories and illustrations [that] reflect the voices of children from underrepresented communities,” Seemann said. “My personal goal is to have students everywhere be introduced to stories from authentic voices.”
There is also a version of “Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers” by Native Realities Press that has additional content and comics that are intended for older readers.
Other Reycraft titles geared toward a younger reader that also feature Native American writers and illustrators include “Spotted Tail” and “PowWow Mystery Series 1.”
For more information, go to reycraftbooks.com. “Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers” can be purchased on Amazon.