Arizona is home to the jaw-dropping Grand Canyon, crazy desert wildlife, and very hot summers.
We’re sure you’ve been in your fair share of fast food establishments, maybe even all over the United States, 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 were used by the United States Armed Forces, mostly the United States Marine Corps, to secretly communicate during WWII. 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, recommending that the Marine Corps recruit 200 native Navajo speakers. The first group of twenty-nine Navajo Indians were selected and attended boot camp in May of 1942.
The official Navajo code was created in Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California. 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 lieutenant colonel. A code book 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 in the 20th century, there were more than 400 different Native Americans in the Marine Corps who worked to transmit coded messages. Many tribes of Indians played a role in code talking, but 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, sending and receiving over 800 messages without error during the first two days of battle. Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division Signal Officer who worked with these six code talkers has said “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo jima.”
The Navajo code talkers were ultimately used throughout WWII, the Korean War, and at the beginning of the Vietnam War. Since then, they have been recognized with Congressional Gold Medals and the official “Navajo Code Talkers Day,” named by president Ronald Reagan. 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, it lies in the heart of the Navajo Reservation. What better place to display the proud work of the code talkers than in the home of their descendants? The Burger King is owned by Richard Mike, son of King Mike, a Navajo serviceman who worked as a code talker. King Mike never talked about his service, and his son found out about it accidentally when he discovered an old postcard. The exhibit currently contains only a third of the artifacts, like photographs, documents, flags, and helmets that King Mike brought home from war, but Richard hopes to open a larger museum where he can display everything, claiming that there is more code talker memorabilia in Kayenta than in the Pentagon!