Navajo Code Talkers oral histories [photocopies], 1971

Overview of the Collection

United States. Marine Corps
Navajo Code Talkers oral histories [photocopies]
0.25 linear feet, (1 box)
Collection Number
MS 0504
This collection (1971) consists of photocopies of eight oral histories of the Marine Corps Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. The histories were previously bound, and include sixteen photographs of code talkers working during the war.
University of Utah Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library
University of Utah
295 South 1500 East
Salt Lake City, UT

Telephone: 8015818863
Access Restrictions

Twenty-four hour advanced notice encouraged. Materials must be used on-site. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

The history of the Marine Corps Navajo Code Talkers dates from 1942-1945. In 1942, a white man by the name of Phillip Johnston, who had lived on a Navajo reservation for many years of his life, conceived an idea that he thought might help the war. He believed that the Navajo language, a verbal, rarely-written language, could be used as part of a code that would enable messages to be sent freely over the radio. An experiment was done in front of top Marine officials to prove that the system would work. After the go-ahead, Navajos volunteered or were recruited, and about 320 eventually contributed as code talkers. The code involved speaking in Navajo, but using substitute words for some things, as would a regular code. It was found that the Navajo speakers could put a message into the code, send it, and translate it faster than any other code system being used at that time. As far as is known, the Japanese were never able to break the Navajo code.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This collection consists of photocopies of eight oral histories of the Marine Corps Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. The histories were previously bound, and include sixteen photographs of code talkers working during the war. The interviews were done 9-10 July, 1971, at Window Rock, AZ, where a reunion was being held. Benis M. French, representing the Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C., performed the interviews. Because the code talkers were sent to separate places of the world during the war, each person's oral history details different experiences.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

The library does not claim to control copyright for all materials in the collection. An individual depicted in a reproduction has privacy rights as outlined in Title 45 CFR, part 46 (Protection of Human Subjects). For further information, please review the J. Willard Marriott Library's Use Agreement and Reproduction Request forms.

Preferred Citation

Collection Name, Collection Number, Box Number, Folder Number. Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Related Materials

See also the Doris Duke oral history project (MS 0417) located in the Manuscripts Division of Special Collections and the C. Gregory Crampton photograph collection (P0197) located in the Multimedia Division of Special Collections.

Processing Note

Processed by Lora Crouch in 1988.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description
Box Volume
1 1 Sidney Bedoni
Bedoni was with the Marine Corps from 1942-1946. He was only seventeen when he joined, but he lied about his age. After boot camp and code talk training, he became a paratrooper. The Marines sent him to Guadalcanal, Vella Lavella, and eventually into Saipan and Okinawa. He remained a Private First Class and was never offered a promotion. After he returned home, he went through a tradtional tribal purification ceremony to purge his mind of his war experiences.
1 1 Alex Williams
Williams joined the Marines in 1943 but did not become a code talker until 1944. He was very active in this assignment, sometimes sending messages night and day. Later, he was given charge of the communications journal. While at war, Williams carried a small bag of corn pollen, which Navajos consider sacred. He states that his son also took one to Vietnam and came back safely.
1 1 Jimmy King, Sr.
King came from Shiprock, New Mexico. He volunteered for the code talker's service and was in the second group of Navajos trained for the project. He helped the other Navajos learn the code and became a communications instructor. During the interview, he described the language used and why some men were rejected from being code talkers. The code talkers were not kept out of danger during the war. King was sent to Peleliu where rough fighting was taking place. He received a bad heart due to the experience. King states that he loves the Marine Corps. He is now a successful businessman.
1 1 Wilfred Billey
Billey, from Farmington, NM, joined the Marines in 1943. He received training at Camp Pendleton and Camp Elliott. Some of it was advanced infantry training as well as code training. Afterwards, he was sent to New Zealand and then Tarawa, but was not used much as a code talker there. He was then sent to Hawaii and was used constantly as a code talker. When the war was over, he was sent to Japan. In the end, he states that he used more English than Navajo in his code work during the war. He was discharged in 1946.
1 1 Carl Gorman
Gorman tells of being with a group of code talkers when they ran out of food. There were no supplies for several days.
1 1 Paul Blatchford
Paul Blatchford, from Tuba City, AZ, joined the Marines as a volunteer. He trained as a code talker, and because he had operated a two-way radio for the Bureau of Indian Affairs before the war, he taught the men how to keep the radios in repair. He also taught radio operation and advance code for nine months. Once, he asked for a promotion and a transfer, but did not get either, so he went AWOL. He returned after a time, and Phillip Johnston was very angry with him and so sent him to be disciplined by a high-ranking official. Blatchford was told that he could volunteer for the Fifth Reconnaissance, which he did. In five weeks he was promoted to Corporal. He was sent to Iwo Jima. During the invasion, he told the boats to zig zag, not to go straight in as they had been. They all escaped being hit.
1 1 John Benally
John Bennally, a native of Fort Defiance, was twenty-four when he joined the Marines. He was one of the first group of twenty-nine to be recruited, and so helped establish the original code. He was assigned to stay in the United States and recruit other Navajos. He chose them from other units of service according to how much education they had. They passed the same physical tests that the other Marines did. Bennally was not sent overseas until 1944. He helped train men on Hawaii and then was sent to Okinawa. He operated the radio from the first day that he was there, and was never told if the messages were top priority or secret. He states being glad he was in the war because afterwards he went to college on the G.I. bill.
1 1 Judge W. Dean Wilson
W. Dean Wilson, now a judge of the courts of the Navajo nation, was a Staff Sergeant in the US Marine Corps Reserve. He joined when he was sixteen, in 1942, and was one of the original twenty-nine code talkers. He had trouble with Morse code at first, but the other codes he learned easily. He was sent to Tarawa and was involved in heavy fighting. As a code talker, he had to carry extra loads of batteries for the radios, which were heavy. He was treated well by the other Marines and helped with kitchen and guard duty as well as code talking. After the war, Wilson stayed with the Marines. He served in the Korean Wa. He retired in 1967.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Code and cipher stories
  • Navajo Indians--Interviews
  • World War, 1939-1945--Participation, Indian
  • World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives

Corporate Names

  • United States. Marine Corps--History--World War, 1939-1945

Form or Genre Terms

  • Oral histories