We’re sure you’ve been in your fair share of fast-food establishments. But we bet none of them are quite like this one! Located in Kayenta, Arizona, this special Burger King is the home of the Navajo Code Talkers Exhibit!
Code talkers secretly communicated messages in Native American languages during WWII. They worked for the United States Armed Forces. The Marine Corps was the primary division to work with them.
Before Philip Johnston, a civil engineer in L.A., came up with the idea to use the Navajo language for secret communication, the Marine Corps was using a machine that took about thirty minutes to decode a single message. Johnston was a WWI veteran himself, and having grown up the son of a missionary on a Navajo reservation, he actually spoke the Navajo language, which was very rare. At that time, Johnston was one of no more than an estimated thirty non-Navajo individuals who could understand the language.
When he pitched his idea, Johnston staged tests to prove that the Navajo Indians could more effectively do the job of the encryption machines. In fact, they did it much better! Compared to the thirty minutes that the encryption machine took to process a three-line English message, the Navajo were able to translate the same message in an incredible twenty seconds. Major General Clayton B. Vogel of the Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, was impressed, and accepted Johnston’s idea. He ended up recommending that the Marine Corps recruit 200 native Navajo speakers.
The official Navajo code was created in Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California in May 1942. The code was based on the Army/Navy phonetic alphabet, but of course, the time to spell out every word of a message was not a luxury that was often available during battle. Instead, the code talkers chose Navajo words to represent certain concepts, terms, tactics, or even instruments of modern warfare. For example, the Navajo word for “shark” translated as “destroyer” and the Navajo for “silver oak leaf” translated as a lieutenant colonel. A codebook of all these terms was created, but it was used only for learning in the classroom and never taken into the field. As the code language grew, representatives from each division met in Hawaii to update it and ensure that everyone was current on all of the newly added phrases.
All in all, there were more than 400 different Native Americans in the Marine Corps who worked as Code Talkers. Of the many tribes, the Navajo code talkers have become the most well known. They’ve been prominently depicted in popular culture. Most notably in the popular 2002 movie, Windtalkers.
During the famous Battle of Iwo Jima, six Navajo code talkers worked tirelessly. They sent and received over 800 messages without error during the first two days of battle. Major Howard Connor a 5th Marine Division Signal Officer who worked with these six code talkers said, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”
The Navajo Code Talkers worked during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
In 1982, Ronald Reagan named August 14th the official “Navajo Code Talkers Day.” Later, the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers were recognized with Congressional Gold Medals in 2000 by President Bill Clinton. Approximately 300 Silver Medals were awarded to the rest of the Code Talkers.
The incredible exhibit found in this Arizona Burger King is one of a few places where you have the chance to learn all about these historic heroes! While the fast-food joint right off of U.S. Highway 160 might seem like an interesting choice of location for this museum. However, it lies in the heart of the Navajo Reservation, so it’s actually perfect. What better place to display the proud work of the code talkers than in the home of their descendants?
Richard Mike is the owner of the Burger King location. He is the son of King Mike, a Navajo serviceman who worked as a code talker. King Mike never talked about his service. His son found out about it accidentally when he discovered an old postcard. The exhibit currently contains only a third of the artifacts. These include photographs, documents, flags, and helmets that King Mike brought home from war. However, Richard hopes to open a larger museum where he can display everything. He claims that there are more code talker memorabilia in Kayenta than in the Pentagon!