WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Nearly 70 years ago, they helped develop the most successful wartime code in history.

Twenty-nine years ago, they first received national recognition when President Ronald Reagan declared Aug. 14 National Navajo Code Talkers Day.

On Sunday, surviving members of the elite group of Marines who, during World War II, used their native Navajo language to confound the Japanese and change the course of history will be honored on their home soil during an all-day ceremony in Window Rock, Ariz.

The ceremony comes on the first day of Navajo Nation Code Talkers Week, which runs through Friday.

Navajo President Ben Shelly issued a proclamation Wednesday calling on all Americans to remember the Code Talkers next week.

"In honor of National Navajo Code Talkers Day, I ask all Americans to join us in commemorating our Navajo Code Talkers, by taking a moment to pray for our war heroes and the brave military men and women who protect all our people, our freedom and our land today," he said in a prepared statement.

"This year we support and honor our heroes, the Navajo Code Talkers ... and recognize them for their bravery, the Navajo military voice code, military service and for saving countless lives," he said. "We are asking all our tribal members to give thanks to our warriors and to encourage families to teach our children to speak Navajo and carry on our language."

The 420 Code Talkers, including the original 29 who were recruited by the Marines, did not return home to great honors, however.


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The men were sworn to secrecy, and many didn't talk about their experiences for decades.

The code, based on Navajo words, was declassified in 1968, 14 years before Reagan encouraged the country to celebrate the Code Talkers.

"The Navajo Nation, when called upon to serve the United States, contributed a precious commodity never before used in this way," Reagan's proclamation states. "In the midst of the fighting in the Pacific during World War II, a gallant group of men from the Navajo Nation utilized their language in coded form to help speed the Allied victory.

"Equipped with the only foolproof, unbreakable code in the history of warfare, the Code Talkers confused the enemy with an earful of sounds never before heard by code experts," Reagan stated. "The dedication and unswerving devotion to duty shown by the men of the Navajo Nation in serving as radio Code Talkers in the Marine Corps during World War II should serve as a fine example for all Americans."

Thirteen of the Code Talkers were killed in action. Code Talker Day festivities will take place Sunday at the Window Rock Navajo Tribal Park and Veterans' Memorial.

The day begins at 7:30 a.m. with a reveille and flag-raising. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. An honor bike run, beginning at communities across the Nation, ends at 2 p.m. at Fire Rock Navajo Casino, and at 3 p.m., event organizers will raffle off a custom Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Registration for the bike run is $20 for single riders and $25 for double.

All raffle proceeds go to the Navajo Code Talkers Association.

Representatives from the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services also will participate in Sunday's event.

Charlotte Smith, a Navajo woman who is an Army veteran, will be on hand to help honor the Code Talkers, and Medal of Honor recipient Jay Vargas will deliver the keynote address.

Alysa Landry:

alandry@daily-times.com