The Code Talker
The young boy entered the hogan, where his grandfather Charlie (Two Shirts) Palmer lived. Charlie was something of a novelty among the Navajo, he had been a Code Talker on Iwo Jima during World War II. The boy knew that his grandfather was a hero among the people but now he wanted to hear the words of the story from his grandfather. The hogan, with its dirt floors, held together with mud and twigs, woven branches forming the roof. The young boy lived in Phoenix, today was the first time he would meet his grandfather. When he entered he found his grandfather sitting cross legged in front of some sort of steam. Charlie motioned his grandson to sit across from him.
“The Great Spirit will tell you about Iwo Jima. First you must concentrate on the steam that will fill the hogan. If the Great Spirit chooses to, he will tell the story through me.” Charlies' grandson nodded. Charlie, began his chant as he pulled the steam toward the two of them. He spoke once again, now in a dream like state:
“so, my grandson you want to have knowledge of the Code Talkers, I was one
as was my brother Jimmy. It was many years ago during World War II, the
Marines were recruiting men from the Navajo Nation. We were not told why
just that we were going to fight the enemy of all Americans, the Japanese. I was fifteen and
Jimmy was seventeen. We told a lie to become Marines. We wanted to fight for our
country despite the way the Navajo Nation had been treated by the white man.
The smoke inside the hogan, began to swirl as if the wind were beckoning. Charlie began his chant to summon his memories of Iwo Jima. The boy did as his grandfather did, inhaling the smoke and motioning it toward him. A strange looked crossed Charlies' face as he began:
It was February 13th, 1945, the first marines landed on Iwo Jima. I was part of the 5th Marines. I was surprised to see that this rock reminded me of Arizona, Navajo land, the mountain had a name; Suribachi. Bullets were flying at us from all directions as we landed. We jumped out of the Higgins boats as quickly as we could. I ran quickly for cover, with my radio strapped to my back. I was a prime target and Sergeant Marks had the job of keeping me safe. The Japanese were intent on keeping Iwo Jima, we were just as determined to fight for this piece of rock. The Marines were told to protect us at all costs, those were orders from the high command, we were very important, we code talkers. I was frightened by the killing that was taking place. Jimmy, went with his company, while I stayed with mine. We had come into together had seen each other for the last time. We waded ashore as I held my rifle above my head, Jimmy did the same. We wished each other luck; went our separate ways. Our company headed toward Suribachi, while Jimmy's company headed toward the Lee side of the island, it was the last time I saw Jimmy alive.
The Japanese were entrenched, in tunnels all over this miserable hunk of rock. Our platoon had just begun to set up when we heard the roar of planes. I quickly got my radio off of my back, placed it in the fox hole and began to send a coded message.
“Da-ha-th-hi” which means Hummingbird translated fighter planes. I sent that messages several times. Then the Japanese began bombing and strafing the area. I could make out clearly the huge orange circle on the planes. I remember yelling frantically: “jay-sho” which is Navajo for Buzzard, that always seemed to me to be very appropriate since buzzards circle then swoop down. I sent the number of planes it was all coded in Navajo.
Late that night, we could hear movement, the Japanese were emerging from their tunnels. They would begin their patrols soon. I sent a message to the decoder informing him of our need for “jay-sho and gini, which were the dive bombers. Very soon after that the bombs rained down on the Japanese patrol. Thus far we were safe. The next morning we moved toward a pill box the Japanese had built. We used flame throwers on them. We could hear their screams as they burned. This is not something I am proud of but it was necessary. Any time we would find a tunnel we used flame throwers. To you it must seem barbaric, but when your life is at stake and you are fighting the enemy, then it does not seem so; at least at the time.
Bullets once again began to whiz over our heads. Fear filled me as I told myself I was a Navajo warrior. We fought off the Japanese patrol, the Army Air Force did a job getting them away from us. Then we settled down for a little shut eye. The following morning dawned gray, just like our spirits. Suddenly, bombs began to fall from the sky. I grabbed my radio and began to send our code as rapidly as possible. The whirr of the bombs coming down is a sound I will never forget. I could see those orange circles. The code talker that I sent the message to was your Uncle Jimmy. I could hear the bombs over the radio, his platoon was in bigger trouble than ours. He kept saying gini over and over. Then the radio went dead. I had no to time to consider anything other than to get the message out we needed da-ha-th-hi immediately. Very soon, our silver birds arrived and rescued us. I knew in my heart that Jimmy was dead. I could not cry, not then, but I cry now for my brother, he was only seventeen, when he went to be with the Great Spirit.
Look, my grandson, into the smoke. Jimmy's face is there as is mine, soon I will join him and
the Great Spirit. These things happen. Jimmy two shirts was returned to my mother and
father after the war. His remains are in the desert.”
The old man, came out of the memories then. He was not sure exactly what he had shared with his grandson. Charlies' grandson smiled at him.
“Grandfather, you have given me a great gift of your memories. I shall not forget
the story of your bravery and Uncle Jimmy's. Someday Grandfather I will pass
this memory to my sons, we will keep your bravery alive.”
Several weeks later, Charlie Two Shirts Palmer received his Congressional Medal of Honor, long over due. He passed quietly in his Hogan. We was the last of the code talkers, today the people will sing his praise. All the original code talkers are gone now but their bravery lives on.