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Code Talkers Visit Peterson

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Bill Toledo, left, and Alfred Newman are two of 14 living Navajo Code Talkers who helped the Marine Corps. by using their native language as code to thwart Japanese forces and gain victory in the Pacific during WWII. The two men were at Peterson AFB sharing stories, signing books and promoting awareness of their story. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Bill Toledo, left, and Alfred Newman are two of 14 living Navajo Code Talkers who helped the Marine Corps. by using their native language as code to thwart Japanese forces and gain victory in the Pacific during WWII. The two men were at Peterson AFB sharing stories, signing books and promoting awareness of their story. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- There was a time when tanks were turtles, fighter planes were hummingbirds, battle ships were whales and bombs were eggs. If this reminds you of Native American lore, you are pretty close.

Alfred Newman and Bill Toledo, two of only about 14 remaining WWII Navajo Code Talkers were at Peterson Air Force Base Exchange Sept. 9-10 greeting people, sharing experiences and keeping alive the story of their dwindling group.

In the early 1940s with the United States hot into the action of World War II Newman and Toledo, now both 90, were teenagers with an ability the U.S. military was looking for. The Japanese were breaking U.S. codes at an alarming rate and upon suggestion of Philip Johnston, who as a missionary child grew up on the Navajo reservation, the Marine Corp decided to give the language a try. Now Uncle Sam was looking for Navajos who could speak and write both their native language and English.

The tests were successful and the complex language of the Navajo was turned into hundreds of terms. Where no Navajo words for military terms, so other words were substituted - tank became turtle, bomber became buzzard and battleship became whale. The Code Talkers committed all terms to memory for security purposes on the battle field. The program started with 30 young Navajo men being enlisted, before long, the program was expanded. By war's end, about 400 Navajo became code talkers.

An 18-year-old Toledo said he heard the Marines were looking for Navajo men to use their language as a code. A Marine had spoken at his school and told them about how tough boot camp was. When he heard of the need for Navajos there was no second thought for him.

"It was a challenge I had to take," Toledo said, "But I handled it." He enlisted in 1942.
Newman said he always admired the Marine Corps, because they were known for settling disputes between nations around the world. He received a draft notice from the Army, but when he heard the Marines were recruiting Navajos he knew what he wanted to do.

In 1943 Newman hitchhiked 30 miles to Fort Wingate near Gallup, NM to see a recruiter. When he made it to the recruiter's office he was asked if he could read and write Navajo.

"I told them, 'Yes, I am Navajo and was born with the language,'" Newman said. "He asked if I had been to school, if I could read and write English and I told him yes. He told me to come back to this place in 10 days and if I didn't show up they would come looking." Both men served in the Third Marine Division.

Toledo said it was challenging to commit all the terms to memory, but the Navajo code was known for it's speed and accuracy so the effort was worth it.

"It was faster sent and faster received. You saved Marine lives doing that," he said.
The Code Talkers were assigned to combat divisions and participated in the fighting along with their fellow Marines. Several from the group recall being mistaken for Japanese soldiers.

Toledo told of his squad getting ahead of the Marines they were following during an advance. Suddenly he felt a gun jabbing him in the back.

"He told me to raise my hands and he turned me into his commander," Toledo said. "He asked 'do you want me to shoot him?'" The commander explained that Toledo was a Marine and from that point on, a bodyguard was assigned to Toledo and other Code Talkers.

Newman and Toledo are proud of their participation in such an important part of ending the war in the Pacific.

"I am proud of myself that I went through the war and helped the country," Toledo said.

"I am proud I could contribute something so the enemy would not know what we were saying or doing," said Newman. Up to that point the Navajo could not vote nor, by treaty, carry rifles, so contributing in this way was very important to him and the other code talkers.

For more information visit: www.dinecodetalkers.org/

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