World War II Navajo Code Talker Dies at 92

April 24, 2018 — A Navajo tribe Code Talker who used his native language to confound the Japanese in World War II has died.

The Navajo Nation says Roy Hawthorne Sr. died Saturday. He was 92.

Hawthorne enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at 17 and became part of a famed group of Navajos who transmitted hundreds of messages in their language without error.

The code was never broken.

Hawthorne had been one of the most visible survivors of the group. He appeared at public events and served as vice president of a group representing the men.

He never considered himself a hero.

Hawthorne later served with the U.S. Army.

He’s survived by five children and more than a dozen grandchildren.

A funeral service is scheduled Friday.

The Code Talkers

Hawthorne was one of an increasingly rare second generation, who assisted with communications that could not be cracked by cryptographers in Tokyo, who routinely deciphered less obscure codes used by U.S. forces in the Pacific.

As of 2016, there were about a dozen Code Talkers still living. The exact number of Code Talkers is unknown because their work was classified for years after the world war II ended.

The code, thought of by Army engineer Philip Johnston and crafted by the original 29 Code Talkers, was designed by attaching familiar words in the Navajo language to English letters.

“A.” was Wol-la-chee, which meant ant.

“B.” was Shush, or bear.

“C.” Moasi. Cat.

“D.” Be. Deer.

The word “enemy,” E-N-E-M-Y, would be Dzeh — Nesh-chee — Dzeh — Na-as-tsosi — Tash-as-zih.

Because written record of the language was scarce, its syntax and grammar were elaborate and the spoken language used tones that were difficult for an untrained ear to understand, they used this language to communicate secretly and confuse the Japanese during the war.

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