Hidden heroes

Speaker explores vital role Navajo Code Talkers played in World War II

By Tempo staff
Posted 5/28/19

By Tempo staffThe Marine Navajo Code Talkers played a vital role in the Pacific campaigns during World War II. They developed a code in their native language that baffled the Japanese and helped win …

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Hidden heroes

Speaker explores vital role Navajo Code Talkers played in World War II

Posted

The Marine Navajo Code Talkers played a vital role in the Pacific campaigns during World War II. They developed a code in their native language that baffled the Japanese and helped win American victory in the Pacific. But few Americans knew about it.

"Growing Up With Heroes: The Navajo Code Talkers of World War II" is the title of a talk by Zonnie Gorman, which will be given Saturday (June 1), 2 p.m., in the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative Boardroom at 118 Cruz Alta Road. Admission is free.

The illustrated lecture, hosted by the Taos County Historical Society, results from the 1989 personal journey by Gorman to discover that part of the life of her father, Carl Gorman, who was one of the original Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. He died in 1998 at the age of 90.

Zonnie Gorman's research, interviews and archiving on the subject of Navajo Code Talkers and World War II created a touching and historical story about the first 29 original Code Talkers.

"Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never had taken Iwo Jima," said Major Howard Conner, signal officer of the Navajos at Iwo Jima.

Gorman's talk will include descriptions of the Navajo Indian Reservation of the 1940s, the U.S. Government policy of assimilation and how the code was made. Zonnie Gorman conducted the first extensive interviews with the first 29 Navajo Code Talkers and one of the Marine Corps recruiters involved with this critical operation.

"Carl [Gorman] served in four important Pacific battles: Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Tinian and Saipan. In 1942, Carl was stricken by malaria, a severe tropical disease, yet he continued to fight. In 1944, Carl was evacuated from Saipan suffering both from the effects of malaria and shell shock. Shell shock is the psychological effects of being in extremely stressful and dangerous situations, such as combat. Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a parasite spread through the bite of a mosquito. Malaria was a common disease in the Pacific islands where much of the war against Japan was fought. [Gorman] had to be hospitalized and took many months to recover," according to the Native Words, Native Warriors website (americanindian.si.edu).

The vital work and sacrifice of the Code Talkers was unknown by the American public for many years after the war. It was deemed classified and all personnel were sworn to secrecy. The Navajo Code Talkers received no recognition at all until the declassification of the operation in 1968. In 1982, the Code Talkers were given a Certificate of Recognition by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who also named August 14, 1982, as Navajo Code Talkers Day.

In addition to Diné (Navajo), the military used the language skills of other Native Americans who spoke Assiniboine, Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Cree, Meshkwaki, Muscogee and Tlingit.

Zonnie Gorman is a recognized historian on the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II and has served as a consultant to numerous documentaries, museum exhibitions and magazine and book authors. Her father, Carl Gorman, along with being one of the original Code Talkers, was an artist and teacher and father to the late R.C. Gorman, Navajo artist of Taos.

Zonnie Gorman has lectured extensively about the Navajo Code Talkers throughout the United States and Canada at universities, museums and a variety of organization's conferences and meetings, as well as several Native American and First Nations communities. She has appeared in and served as consultant to a number of documentaries, including the History Channel documentary "Navajo Code Talkers," and the PBS documentary "True Whispers." Recently, she was hired to the exhibits team by the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia, to expand the Navajo Code Talkers exhibition.

She holds degrees from the University of New Mexico and has also worked in Native American cultural tourism and the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years, She is a member of the board of directors for the Navajo Studies Conference. She has received numerous awards over the years for her work in areas of cultural tourism, preservation and history.

For more information on the Taos County Historical Society and its programs, visit taoscountyhistoricalsociety.org.

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