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Manteca event honors Navajo code talker
Keith Little, one of the original Navajo code talkers who served in World War II, shares some of his stories during a dinner Friday at Prestige Senior Living. - photo by HIME ROMERO


• TODAY: World War II Navajo code talker Keith Little will speak at 6 p.m. today during the official Memorial Day Weekend ceremonies at 6 p.m. at Woodward Park.

Throughout the early part of his life, Keith Little had people telling him about how his ways were uncivilized, and that his tradition and his people were savage.

But as one of the Navajo code talkers that served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, Little would ironically use the language that his upbringing had instilled in him to help the Allied Forces in their operations in the Pacific Theater. The Navajo code talkers were credited with allowing the Allied Forces to send message about battle strategies that the Japanese were unable to decipher.

Little flew in from New Mexico Friday afternoon to be a guest of Pastor Mike Dillman during Memorial Day weekend ceremonies, and was part of a dinner reception Friday night at Prestige Senior Living.

The code used for relaying messages in the Pacific – which were subject to the interception of skilled Japanese code breakers – was hatched in San Diego when Navajo enlistees came up with lists of commonly used tactics, concepts, and military terms that could only be understood by other Navajo speakers that were trained in how to decipher the messages.

“It was such a complex language,” Little said. “When the Marine Corps was recruiting Navajos they were looking for those who were fluent in the traditions and those who could read and write the English language.

“There were only a select few of us that were able to do that.”

Because of the complexity of the language and its important use in military operations, the Navajo code wasn’t declassified until 1968, and many code talkers were acknowledged for their contributions until just over a decade ago.

President Ronald Reagan declared August 14 “Navajo Code Talkers Day,” and in 2000 President Bill Clinton presented honors to 29 World War II code talkers. In 2001 President George Bush gave the award to 4 living code talkers, and was also presented to the families of 24 that were no longer alive.