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Navajo Code Talkers visit Fort Bliss to share stories of service

FORT BLISS, Texas — Navajo Code Talkers who served in World War II discussed their work and signed autographs today at Fort Bliss.

Robert Walley, 93, and Bill Toledo, 89, both former Marines who were assigned to field communications duties in the South Pacific, are on a national tour to raise awareness about the Navajo code talkers.

They met with soldiers and civilians at the Freedom Crossing mall, who wanted to take their pictures and thank them for their service.

Toledo, who lives in Laguna, N.M., said he served as a code talker from 1942 to 1945. He said he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division.

"We are going all over the country to let people know about the work of the Navajos during the war," he said.

Walley, who lives near Gallup,

was a Marine Raider with the 6th Marine Division, from 1943 to 1945. He served in Guam and received a Purple Heart after being injured in combat.

The code talkers were featured in the 1959 movie "Never So Few," which starred the late actor Charles Bronson.

The coder talkers were asked by the U.S. military to create an unbreakable code using the Navajo language that enemy forces could not break for use in sensitive field communications.

One of the books on sale at their table, "Navajo Weapon: The Navajo Code Talkers" (Rio Nuevo Publishers; reissued in 2002) by Sally McClain, is considered a definitive work on the subject.

To come up with the code, the Navajo recruits first had to learn military terms and names and assign Navajo definitions to them and the code terms that could be transmitted by radio or telephone.

For example, a bomber plane became a "buzzard," a submarine an "iron fish," and a mine sweeper a "beaver," according to McClain's book.

The code talkers carried radios and had to transmit tactical messages before Japanese tracking systems could detect them to warn U.S. troops of enemy movements.

A Navajo government website includes a historical reference to the work of the code talkers.

Maj. Howard Connor, a 5th Marine Division signal officer, said, "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima," according to the web site.

"Connor had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. Those six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error."

Toledo and Walley belong to the Dine Code Talkers, a New Mexico-based nonprofit group of Navajo Code Talkers. Their national tour and book sales are part of a fundraising campaign for their association.

More information: navajocodetalkers.org

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