Monday, July 2, 2012

Navajo Code Talkers

The Flagstaff Chamber announced last month that we were honored to have two Navajo Code Talkers as the Grand Marshalls for our Arizona Centennial 4th of July Parade.

For those that don't know much about code talkers, or the crucial role they played in World War II, below is an excerpt about Sidney Bedoni, one of the last living Code Talkers.

“Mr. Sidney Bedoni -- Navajo Code Talker, U.S.
Marine Corps and Army Veteran, and Proud American”

At 85 years of age, Mr. Sidney Bedoni is one of a dwindling few still left of a unique group of U.S. Marines that played a crucial role in World War II- the Navajo Code Talkers. Mr. Bedoni proudly served his country as a Navajo Code Talker in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II from 1942 to 1946.

He, along with other young men from the Navajo reservations in Arizona, helped outwit one of the most sophisticated war machines in the world – the Japanese military – and may have communicated in the only truly unbreakable code in the history of warfare. Mr. Bedoni was one of the youngest Navajos to go into service with the U.S. Marines as
a Code Talker in World War II.

Mr. Bedoni was only fifteen years old when he joined the Marine Corps – three years earlier than the standard age of eighteen years. At the time of his enlistment in October 1942, he was attending boarding school in Tuba City, AZ. He kept hearing news about the war and how the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Both his father and grandfather (who raised Mr. Bedoni after the death of his mother) impressed upon him the importance of protecting Our Mother Earth. Mr. Bedoni knew this was his calling in life to
join the War and serve his country. As a result, he was eager to enlist, and hitchhiked 80 miles from Tuba City to his home in Navajo Mountain, UT, to get the approval of his father. With the approval of his father, and assistance by the recruiter, Mr. Bedoni enlisted.

Mr. Bedoni learned the Navajo code while in boot camp with the Marines at Camp Elliot in San Diego County, where he also received training as a radio operator. He was Radio Operator #776, and Code Talker #643. Mr. Bedoni was a member of the 2nd Group of Navajo Code Talkers that underwent training with the US Marine Corps.

The Navajo Code used in World War II was so difficult to break because it assigned words in their native language to various terms used in the military. Navajo language has a word for things such as airplane, tank, ship, and fighter pilot, and under the Code, airplanes were given Navajo names for birds. For example, a “dive bomber” was called a “Gini”, their word for Sparrow Hawk, or a bomb was called “A-ye-shi”, their word for eggs. Eventually, the Code included about 600 words.

In addition to the assigned terms, the Navajo Code included the alphabet. They took the English letter, thought of something that started with that letter, and then used the Navajo word for that object. For example, for the letter “A:, they chose “ant, for which the Navajo word is “wol-a-chee”, and for the letter “B”, they chose the word “bear”, which is “shush”. Using this code, it was possible to communicate by spelling out names of locations or other information. The Code was so sophisticated it was never broken by
the Japanese. Furthermore, because of the top-secret nature of the Code, it was put to memory by all of the Code Talkers so there was no risk of a handbook falling into enemy hands.

After Mr. Bedoni’s training with the Navajo Code in boot camp, he departed for the South Pacific where he served in numerous regions until 1946. Mr. Bedoni served in the 2nd, 4th and 5th Marine Corps Divisions.

His service in WW II began with deployment to New Caledonia from November 1942 to February 1943. At New Caledonia Mr. Bedoni received training in the 1st Parachute Regiment. He next fought in the British Solomon Islands, where he was involved in the Battle of Bougainville in November 1943.

In addition to the above-mentioned locations, a few of the many sites Mr. Bedoni saw action in World War II were: Saipan, Vella Lavella Island, Okinawa, and Guadalcanal. He also saw duty in the Hawaiian Islands near the end of World War II.

For years, Lena Bedoni, Sidney’s wife, whom he married in 1952, did not know what he had done during World War II. The Code Talkers program remained classified until 1968 due to the fact that the Code may have been needed in other military operations.

Nearly 25 years after the end of World War II, the Navajo Code Talkers finally began to receive national recognition and the veil of secrecy was lifted.

Mr. Bedoni earned a rank of Private First Class while in active duty, but was promoted to Sergeant Major in 1988 because of his outstanding record of military service – more than three decades after his active military service ended.

On July 26, 2001, the Navajo Code Talkers received national recognition from President George W. Bush in a ceremony held at the Capital in Washington, DC. In that ceremony, 24 Native Americans received the highest military distinction of all, the Medal of Honor. This award was given to those surviving members of the original 1st Group of Navajo Code Talkers. During that ceremony, President Bush stated: “In war, using their native language, they relayed secret messages that turned the course of battle. At home, they carried for decades the secret of their own heroism. Today, we give these exceptional Marines the recognition they earned so long ago”. President Bush went on to say: “Today, we mark a moment of shared history and shard victory. We recall a story that all Americans can celebrate, and every American should know. It is a story of ancient people, called to serve in a modern war. It is a story of one unbreakable oral code of the Second World War, messages traveling by field radio on Iow Jima in the very language heard across the Colorado plateau centuries ago”.

After that initial ceremony in Washington D.C in July 2001, recognition of Mr. Bedoni’s service as a Navajo Code Talker came several months later. On November 24, 2001, Mr. Bedoni was awarded the Silver Congressional Medal of Honor at a ceremony in Window Rock, AZ. Mr. Bedoni considers this award the most prestigious honor he has ever received.

In addition to his military service during World War II, Mr. Bedoni also was in the 8th Army during the Korean War for four years. In the Korean War, Mr. Bedoni served as part of the peace-keeping forces. During his U.S. Army service, Mr. Bedoni was awarded the Korean Service Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, and a Good Conduct Medal. Mr. Bedoni was discharged honorably from the Army on October 23, 1952, at Fort Ord, CA.

Following his military service in the Army in the Korean War, Mr. Bedoni worked as a civil service employee at the Navajo Army Depot in Bellmont, AZ, just outside of Flagstaff, for 35 years. This position at the Navajo Army Depot was an Explosives Operator. Later, Mr. Bedoni worked in the same capacity at the facility for the State of Arizona before officially retiring in August 1988.

Mr. Bedoni was born March 10, 1927 in Navajo Mountain, UT. Mr. Bedoni met his wife (Lena) during the war at Fort Defiance, AZ, and has been happily married to Lena since 1952. They have four children (Virginia Ann, Darrell Patrick, Emerson Clark and Norma Jean), eight grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren. Mr. Bedoni and his wife Lena live in White Cone, AZ on the Navajo Reservation, and also spend time with their family in Mesa, AZ.

Here's a song about the Code Talkers

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