‘Native Americans’: La Jolla Veterans Memorial Honors Navajo Code Talkers
In an early Veterans Day celebration, the Mount Soledad Memorial Association held a ceremony Nov. 5 at the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial in La Jolla to honor veterans, focusing this year on the legacy of WWII Navajo Code Talkers.
The memorial, which honors more than 5,000 living and deceased veterans, “is the result of the sacrifices made by the men and women who have worn the fabric of our nation,” said the president and CEO of the association, Phil Kendro, at the event, which was held. in person and live. It brought together San Diego city officials, including Mayor Todd Gloria, Police Chief David Nisleit and Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla.
The Navajo Code Talkers “were the original Americans,” Kendro said. “They fought for their nation at a time when they were still not considered citizens of the United States, or even allowed to vote freely.”
With November being Native American Heritage Month, “it’s a great time to honor the Navajo Code Talkers here at Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial,” Kendro said.
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Brig. General James Ryans, deputy commander of the 1st Marine Division, said that at the start of World War II, Japan “had the tactical advantage because it could quickly decipher [American] military codes, compromising our ability to communicate our operations.
“A man named Philip Johnson who spoke the Navajo language…approached a Marine Corps communications officer with the idea of using the Navajo language as a military code, since it was neither written nor known to the enemy,” Ryans said.
Kendro said the genesis of the Navajo Code Talker program is steeped in local history, as the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers trained at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.
The Code Talkers, numbering more than 400, enlisted when “America was in dire need of secure communications,” said Regan Hawthorne, executive director of the future Navajo Code Talkers Museum in New Mexico and son of a Code Talker.
They embodied the Navajo advice that “it’s up to you if you want to succeed,” Hawthorne said.
“The arduous task of creating a military code from a language considered sacred [using unfamiliar] equipment and war material was a challenge,” he said.
Ryans said the Navajo Marines rose to the challenge and “quickly turned their language into an unbreakable code that would soon become essential to saving lives on the battlefield.”
Kendro credited the Code Talkers’ “perseverance and dedicated work ethic” with helping win the war.
About 44,000 Native Americans fought in World War II, Kendro said, and thousands more served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
In 2001, some of the first Code Talkers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’s highest national expression of appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions, Kendro said.
There are only three Navajo Code Talkers left, he said, adding that he hopes they are watching the live stream.
The Code Talkers service exemplifies “the unifying idea that we can serve under this flag in any capacity. Freedom is what brings us all together,” Ryans said.
The Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial at 6905 La Jolla Scenic Drive South is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. For more information, visit soledadmemorial.org. ◆