The Last Navajo Code Talker
The Art of the Interview
The Incredible Story of World War II Hero Navajo Code Breaker, Jack Jones
Navajo Code Breaker Jack Jones
Autographs of all of the surviving members
I met World War II hero Master Sergeant Jack Jones and the last dozen Navajo Code-Breakers in September of 2007. The spirit of my mother was with me that day, for her love of Native American culture and my love of History intersected just a day after her funeral. My brothers and I were walking around the square in downtown Albuquerque when we saw this table with all of these wonderful men, completely by themselves. They were just waiting for someone to come and speak to them, for they had some amazing stories to tell.
They have all since passed away, making my afternoon with them one of the greatest gifts that my mother could have left me with. This chance meeting happened long-before the idea for this book came out, but the questions were sharp and the answers were rich with detail. I found notes scrawled in my notebook and combined with the photographs I had taken, I was able to piece together this primary source document. Indeed, this was the one moment in time that would come to define the others in my book and would help bring out more detailed information in subsequent interviews.
We discussed the use of all five senses when recalling his time in the service when he was quick to tell me that he lost almost all sense of smell and hearing when a bomb exploded near his vehicle.
“Chicken Eggs and Ash Cans”
Eyewitness to History, US Marine Private First Class Jack Jones, in his Own Words
Jones was part of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 77 and one of the distinguished Navajo Code Breakers, Winner of a Congressional Medal of Honor in 2001, he and his comrades were instrumental in helping to turn the tide of the Pacific War in the favor of the Americans. Assigned to the 382nd Platoon at Camp Pendleton
I was raised as a Navajo and listened to my elders the way we all did. They told me I was headed out to war, and that I needed to come back alive. The military saw that our language was very unique and it sounded funny to them. I was just 19 at the time and we had to make up words for things that didn’t exist in the Navajo language. We called grenades ‘’Chicken Eggs’’ and submarines were ‘’Ash Cans’’ But these were just nouns that fit into the Navajo Tongue. The Japanese tried and tried to decipher the code of the Navajo, realizing that they were facing a real communications challenge but they couldn’t figure out our language. It is a very hard language – even for those who are native to the language.
I don’t know whose idea it was to use Navajo as a language for military communication but they couldn’t have chosen a harder language. It is even hard for us to learn, and we were raised around it. My children don’t speak it and other than a few of the elders, the language is all-but-disappeared. But they couldn’t have picked a more difficult language. If you weren’t a Navajo, the language was nearly impossible to decipher.
The Marines we served with couldn’t figure out what our role was and they were a little resentful because we were getting special treatment. Some of them singled us out for some pretty rough-neck treatment, but that would all change as the war moved on to its conclusion. Regardless, we couldn’t tell them, we couldn’t tell anyone for that matter, what we were doing. It was top secret. Our families didn’t even know.
It was in Palau that I took the explosion that did me in. The Japanese were so crazy, they would tie themselves to tree branches and hang in the trees for hours, even days, just waiting for the enemy to come along. They were almost impossible to see, like true ninja fighters in a way. We had to expend ammunition firing indiscriminately into the trees just in case they were hiding up there. Most of our bullets were wasted, but a few did hit their targets too.
When we landed on the island, we had to dig foxholes. This was not only hard work, but dangerous too. Snipers were picking us off at will, and men were falling around me. On just the second day, a large explosion, Bam! ….And I the next thing I knew I was out cold. I woke in a tent where they were trying to take care of me, but I was scared and I panicked. I got off of my cot and ran – I still had bags tied to me but I was out of it you know, completely out of it.
Our moment in the war was the ability to help the American forces in moving to the right places without being detected. We knew the Japanese would barely understand the Native Americans as it was about as far away from their own culture and history as anything they could have imagined. They had such an old and ancient civilization but it is the same now as it has ever been. The Japanese tried but they never could figure out the Navajo language.
There were so many Native Americans who fought in World Wars I and II. No one was more loyal to America than the collection of Navajo, Apache, Cherokee, Ute and Sioux American Natives that fought for this country. It hardly seems right, given that we were living mainly on reservations and were treated as second class citizens on our own soil.
But we found equality on he battlefield. Black, White, Indian, Hispanic, we were all Americans at that time. All of us. ###