VOL. X, NO. 33
California State University, Long Beach October 28, 2002


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. News  

WWII Windtalker sets the story straight

By Tina Page

On-line Forty-Niner

Hollywood helped to bring the story of the Navajo code talkers to the attention of the world in the movie “Windtalkers.”
A more accurate account can be found in a Navajo, Joe Morris Sr., who joined faculty and students Wednesday night in the University Student Union to speak about his experiences in World War II.
Morris was a Navajo code talker during World War II. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944 at the age of 17 by lying about his age. He soon became known as a Windtalker as he served in the South Pacific until his discharge in 1946. The Navajo Windtalkers were credited with saving many lives during their tenure in service.
“At first the Marines didn’t believe that the Navajo code would help,” Morris said. “The Japanese had broken every other code that the Marines tried to use. The Marines started to like us. They said we were saving a lot of lives with our code.”
The Windtalker code is based on the Navajo language, which has no words for modern concepts. The code gave Navajo words to military machinery and troop movements. A battle ship was “Lo tso,” meaning whale, in Navajo, Morris said.
While other codes used by the Marines took more than two hours to decode, the Navajo code took less than two minutes because it was simply based on an established language that the Navajos could understand.
Morris was one of a group of 200 Navajos sent to the Navajo Communications School at Camp Pendlenton. The first group of 29 established the code. It was such a success that the Marines asked for more.
“Let me say that the Japanese never broke our code,” Morris said. “They are probably still working on it.”
The code was kept so secret that Morris was not permitted to reveal that he worked as a code talker for 23 years after the end of the war. Married in 1950, he was not able to tell his wife until 1969 about his role in the Allied victory in the South Pacific in World War II.
Morris was accompanied by his wife and daughter during the presentation. At the age of 76, he stood straight in his Marine uniform decorated with traditional Navajo turquoise, a Windtalker’s patch and the numerous ribbons and medals he received during his time serving in the Marines. Morris recounted the horrors of war with practical disdain.
“You don’t know how long you’re going to last,” Morris said. “You think you’re going to die all the time. I was lucky.”
The movie “Windtalkers” has helped to credit the Navajo with the crucial role that they played in World War II. For this, Morris said he supports the movie. But he also pointed out that it is really not as accurate as it should be.
“War is something else,” Morris said. “It’s not like watching a movie. You could smell it.”
The “Windtalkers” movie and Morris’ appearance were chosen by a focus group during the summer to be included as part of this year’s Multicultural Festival, Laura Apeldoorn of Associated Students Inc. said.


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