Story by Cpl. Demetrius Morgan
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Retired Marines who served as Navajo Code Talkers during World War II and members of the Navajo Nation visited the 1st Marine Division during a tour aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Sept. 28, 2015.
Marines with the division hosted a ceremony to honor the code talkers for their pivotal service World War II.
“It’s an honor to have you here today,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel O’Donohue, the commanding general of the division. “The Navajo nation provided a duty that no one else could at that time. You humble us by returning to the division. The sacrifices you made we can’t even imagine and your legacy and your spirit live on.”
Navajo Code Talkers were first put into action in early 1942 to establish an undecipherable code, which could be used in combat environments to communicate sensitive information.
The Navajo code was selected because of its difficulty and obscurity and was deciphered by enemies of that time. This allowed commanders to issue out commands securely in the heat of battle against the imperial Japanese enemies. The code remained secret until it was declassified in 1968.
There were two Navajo Code Talkers in attendance; Roy Hawthorne and Sam Holiday. Both reminisced about their time in the service and what it meant to them to contribute to the efforts in World War II.
“I always stress to people that we aren’t heroes,” Hawthorne said. “We were chosen to serve in the Marine Corps and bring liberty to the enemy. I loved every bit of it and I would do it all over again.”
Hawthorne told stories of their time in the Corps, going back all the way to his first moments joining. He also talked about the shock of being in a new environment and culture much different than his own.
“I remember getting on the train and not knowing what a sergeant was,” Hawthorne said. “We didn’t have any of those back home. I was told to find this sergeant on a train. Luckily the first train I saw was the one that lead me to the sergeant.”
After his remarks, Donohue presented Hawthorne and Holiday with a coin symbolizing the gratitude of the 1st Marine Division. The two code talkers then presented the gift to two Marines currently serving within the Division. This gesture symbolized the passing of the torch to the next generation of Marines.
The division song Waltzing Matilda played to honor those who had served in the division. Like the code talkers, the song originated in WWII. Through the years Marines and Sailors marched to war the song and paid the ultimate sacrifice. After the ceremony came to a close, the Navajo nation council visited various units within the I Marine Expeditionary Force.