The Navajo Nation has announced the death of Roy Hawthorne Sr, who served as a US Marine Corp “code talker” in World War II. He was 92 years old. Hawthorne passed away at the Navajo Nation capital of Window Rock, AZ.
Enlisting in the Marines at the age of 17, he served in the Pacific Theater with fellow tribesmen, speaking over the radio in their complex native tongue to relay important information to and from the front lines. At the time, there was no Navajo alphabet, which meant that none of the language was written down. As an added precaution, they used code words, also spoken in Navajo. For example, a tank was a “chay-da-gahi” (tortoise), dive bombers were “gini” (chicken hawks), battleships were “lo-tso” (whales), and deliver was “be-bih-zidhe” (deer liver).
While the Navajo Code Talkers are the most famous, Native American WWII Code Talkers came from a total of thirty three tribes, each using their native language and code names for various things, guaranteeing further consternation on the part of Japanese intelligence agents.
After being discharged from the USMC after the end of WWI, Hawthorne enlisted in the US Army to fight in the Korean War. In later years, he became one of the most visible Code Talkers, working to see their contributions to the war recognized. He said he never considered himself a hero, but was proud of the service rendered by the Navajo Code Talkers. Over 800 messages were transmitted flawlessly, and the Japanese code breakers were helpless in their efforts to break it.