Throughout the military engagements of the 20th Century, the United States enlisted one of its most unique assets to help relay hidden messages to its allies: Native American Nations. Today, as the coronavirus pandemic has taken its hold on the Navajo Nation, a former ally is returning the favor in the form of personal protective equipment.
Native American Code Talkers
In the First World War, Choctaw Indians helped the United States Army transmit messages by telephone in an encoded version of their native language, leading to victory in several battles in France that ultimately helped the alliance win the war.
But Native American Code Talkers, as they were called, really came into their own during World War II, when members of the Comanch, Choctaw, Hopi, and Cherokee Nations contributed to the American effort by using their native languages to compose highly-sophisticated, unbreakable codes that could be used to transmit messages to global allies.
Still, no Nation made as indelible a mark on the Allied war effort as the Navajo, who joined an elite Marine Corps to design and relay hidden messages throughout the Second World War and into the Korean War of 1950.
The codes, which were nearly impossible to crack because they were based on the sparsely-understood Navajo language, proved instrumental in assisting South Korea stave off Northern forces during its 3-year civil war. Nearly 800 members of the Navajo Nation served the American effort to protect South Korea, and according to the country’s Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, around 130 of these Code Talkers are still alive today. And while members of the Navajo Nation have faced some of the bleakest statistics amid the coronavirus crisis, the South Korean government wants to return the favor, seventy years later.
Returning the Favor
After recognizing that the Navajo Nation in the United States faced infection rates on par with New York City—the most affected metropolitan area in the country—the South Korean government decided to send 10,000 facial masks and other personal protection equipment to their former Navajo allies.
“We hope our small gifts will console the veterans in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Kim Eun-Gi, a veterans committee chair in South Korea.
“The government remembers those who made a noble sacrifice to defend a strange country 70 years ago,” Kim said, “and we hope they will proudly tell their posterity about the choice they made so many years ago.”
South Korea has arguably executed the world’s most aggressive and efficient response to the coronavirus pandemic, and has tried to assist the global effort by sending protective equipment to several countries. The US Department of Veterans Affairs has already received half a million masks from South Korea, in honor of the 50 thousand Americans who risked their lives in the Korean War.
But even as the Navajo Code Talkers have remained in the footnotes of history books in America, it is heartwarming to see that their contribution to defense efforts throughout the 20th Century have not been forgotten by their former allies.