World War II Navajo Code Talkers given congressional medals at special ceremony

Sunday, November 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) _ Navajo Code Talkers, whose code based on their native tongue was never cracked by the Japanese during World War II, were honored Saturday in a ceremony that many said was long overdue.

Thousands of people watched as more than 300 Congressional Silver Medals were presented to the surviving Code Talkers.

The Code Talkers were honored for a code that, indecipherable by the Japanese, was credited with saving thousands of lives and turning the tide of decisive battles in the Pacific.

``It feels great,'' 76-year-old Samuel Smith said after receiving his medal. ``I think I finally became an American.''

Smith, of San Fidel, N.M., said he didn't ask for the job or the award.

``I'm proud to have done what I did,'' he said.

The initial 29 Code Talkers who created the code were honored with Congressional Gold Medals last summer in Washington. Those honored Saturday joined the group later in the war.

``From this day forward we will continue to remember the courage and sacrifice of the Navajo Code Talkers,'' said Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye.

The complex Navajo language was little known outside the Southwest, and the Code Talkers added word substitutions. For example, a colonel became ``silver eagle,'' which was translated into Navajo as ``ataah-besh-le-gai.'' A submarine became ``besh-lo,'' Navajo for ``iron fish,'' and a bomber was ``jay-sho,'' or buzzard in Navajo.

The Code Talkers were sworn to secrecy about their roles in the war. It wasn't until 1968 that the government declassified the project.