Navajo Code Talker Dies at Age 86

In beauty I walk

With beauty above me I walk

With beauty before me I walk

With beauty behind me I walk

Everything around me, in beauty I walk

In beauty I walk

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

—Navajo Prayer

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a poetry workshop on sacred Navajo ground in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. We learned about the Dinẻ (the name Navajos call themselves) way of life.  John Fox was our poetry teacher and Lupita McClanahan was our Navajo guide.  We climbed and walked and wrote in the canyon. We primitive tent camped and ate our meals—including golden fry bread– cooked on a fire outdoors. There was no electricity. We slept under the stars. Their silent brilliance took my breath away. We listened as Lupita told us stories about “the People”.   I learned about the beauty ways of these Native Americans and came to appreciate their culture.

The Navajo language refers to everyday things by gender. A gentle spring rain is female, while a loud thunder storm is designated as male.  In 1942, this beautiful language was used to help save thousands of lives by becoming the only unbroken military code in US history. During WWII, the Japanese intelligence experts broke every US military code and were sabotaging communications by inserting fake messages and commands to ambush Allied troops. More and more complex US codes were developed and took hours of decryption for very simple messages. A faster, simpler way of communicating secret messages was needed.The answer was using the Navajo language. The orignal group of code talkers numbered 29 and memorized 200 different terms. Nothing was written down. By the end of the war, the secret terms grew to 600.

From the Official Code Talker website:

“In a simple, memorable way, the military terms tended to resemble the things with which they were associated. For example, the Navajo word for tortoise, “chay-da-gahi,” meant tank, and a dive-bomber, “gini,” was a “chicken hawk,” (a bird which dives on its prey). Sometimes the translation was more literal, as in “besh-lo” (iron fish) which meant submarine; other times it was metaphorical, as in “ne-he-mah” (our mother), which meant America.”

We as a nation have lost another WWII hero, Joe Antonio Silversmith, a Navajo code talker.  The official website of the Navajo Code Talkers says: “It is a great American story that is still largely unknown—the story of a group of young Navajo men who answered the call of duty, who performed a service no one else could, and in the process became great warriors and patriots. Their unbreakable code saved thousands of lives and helped end WWII.”

Thank you Joe Antonio Silversmith for your service.