Their Code Remained Unbroken: Navajo Code Talkers in their Own Words



Pre-event reception and check-in at the San Diego History Center. The film will be screened next door in the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theater inside The Museum of Photographic Arts.

Military Dependent/Veteran: Free
Members: Free
Military Active Duty: Free
Non-Member: $10.00


About Dr. George A. Colburn:

An accomplished filmmaker and historian, George A. Colburn is director of operations of Starbright Media and director/producer of “Navajo Code Talkers: A Journey of Remembrance.” He has devoted more than 35 years to producing history-based documentaries, including “The Eisenhower Legacy,” A four-part series hosted by Gen. Colin L. Powell (U.S. Army, Ret.), that aired on The Disney Channel and, later, on History Channel.

Other Eisenhower documentaries created by Dr. Colburn have appeared on PBS, including “Eisenhower’s Secret War,” that is completing its airing later this year. He is currently in production on “Ike: The Making of an American Hero,” scheduled for release to coincide with the 75th anniversary of D-Day in June 2019. Dr. Colburn also has a two-hour documentary titled “Young Hemingway and His Enduring Eden,” set for release later in 2017.

Dr. Colburn holds a doctorate in history from Michigan State University, where he has served as a visiting professor in the history department and in the department of American Thought and Language. He has also been an adjunct professor of journalism at UC San Diego, Illinois State University, and an adjunct professor of history at Gettysburg College.

About the San Diego History Center:

One of the oldest and largest historical organizations on the West Coast, the San Diego History Center is one of the only institutions dedicated to the heritage of a major American

metropolitan region. The History Center was established in 1928 by noted philanthropist, businessman and civic leader George W. Marston, who built the Junípero Serra Museum to house the new institution on Presidio Hill, site of the founding of San Diego and California. In 2010, San Diego History Center was formally adopted as the institution’s name.

Media Contacts

John Freeman
Point PR Communications

Dr. Tina Zarpour, PhD
Director of Education & Programs
San Diego History Center
619-232-6203, ext 128

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

On November 8th, 2017 the San Diego History Center will present “Navajo Code Talkers: A Journey of Remembrance”; a documentary which traces the legacy of Navajo Marines whose secret code, created in San Diego, contributed toward US victory against the Japanese in the WWII Pacific Theatre.

SAN DIEGO – “Navajo Code Talkers: A Journey of Remembrance,” a newly released documentary, follows the return of six Navajo Code Talkers to five Pacific island sites where their unbreakable battlefield terminology, based on the unwritten Navajo language, helped U.S. forces overcome fierce Japanese opposition.  

This event will be the first time this film has been screened locally!

Introductions by NBC7’s Jim Laslavic

Producer George Colburn with the late Keith Little, president of the Navajo Code Talker Association, on the island of Saipan, during taping for “Navajo Code Talkers: A Journey of Remembrance.”

Highlighted by the poignant reflections of six then-surviving Navajo Code Talkers, the documentary is based on extensive interviews conducted on-location in Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima and Okinawa – as well as at USMC Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, where they trained and learned the code, and on the lands of the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico.

The interviews were conducted by the film’s director/producer, Dr. George A. Colburn, a former San Diego resident and UCSD Extension instructor.

The highly personal reflections of the Navajo Code Talkers dominate the film’s storyline, Dr. Colburn says, because “they are so clearly honest and heartfelt. There’s no question that their unflinching heroism, bravery and loyalty proved to be pivotal factors in the American war effort. This was their story – and it will be their story forever.”

The first 29 of the originally recruited Navajos (one dropped out) first arrived in May 1942 at San Diego’s Camp Elliott – on land now occupied by Torrey Pines State Park. One of the first tasks for these recruits was to develop a Navajo code after they were trained as Marine riflemen.

The secret code was created for the U.S. Marine Corps by these young Navajo recruits whose native tongue was Navajo, an unwritten language. The code was never broken by the Japanese, thus providing cover for under-siege American troops during the “island-hopping” war campaign against the Japanese through the summer of 1945. Several hundred Navajo Marines used the code and more were ready for the invasion of Japan when the war ended.

“Navajo Code Talkers: A Journey of Remembrance” provides viewers with personal accounts, memories and insights into these Native American war heroes, who faithfully served the United States despite the fact that they were not considered American citizens at the time.

Conducted exclusively by Dr. Colburn, the interviews took place in 2005 and 2006 with six aging Navajo code-talker veterans who made the arduous return to the battlefield. He also conducted interviews with younger-generation family members for their perspective.

The Navajo recruits developed the secret code by taking words from their language and applying them to commonly-used war terminology. For example, the names of different birds were used to stand for different types of planes.

As one Navajo Code Talker, Keith Little, who died in 2012, told The Associated Press three years before: “My motivation was to fight the enemy with a gun or whatever. When I went into the Marine Corps … I knew nothing about the Navajo code. It was really astonishing to me to get to Camp Pendleton and there were a bunch of Navajos there, and they were working with a Navajo code.”

Significant facts and insights:

  • Navajo Code Talkers refers to U.S. soldiers during World War II who used their knowledge of their Native American language as a basis to transmit coded messages. The complexity of Navajo linguistics allowed Navajos and other Native Americans to become ideal recruits for the U.S. Marine Corps.
  • The Navajo Code Talkers’ primary task was to transmit tactical information over telephone and radio in such a way that it would be indecipherable to Japanese translators who sought to detect actionable hints, large and small, of pending US military strategy.
  • Because the Navajo language was unwritten, the code talkers were illiterate in their native language. The Navajo language consists of tones that are virtually impossible for an untrained ear to understand or decrypt.
  • The first letter of a Navajo word corresponded with one of the 26 letters in the English alphabet. Several different words were chosen to represent the more commonly used letters in order to make the code even more secure. For example, the word “egg” became “bomb.”
  • During the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima, six Navajo Code Talkers operated continuously, sending more than 800 messages, all transmitted successfully to U.S. Pacific island outposts without error or evident detection.
  • The existence of the Navajo Code Talkers remained classified by the U.S. government until 1968. Prior to that, they were under orders to keep their WWII roles secret. It wasn’t 2001 that the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers, or their surviving family members, were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Other Code Talkers received the Silver Medal.
  • WW II wasn’t the first time a Native American language was used to create a code. During World War I, the Choctaw language was used to transmit secret tactical messages and was instrumental in a successful surprise attack against the Germans.
  • The last survivor of the Navajo Code Talkers, Chester Nez, died in 2014 at age 93. Nez, who was in 10th grade when he was recruited in 1942 by Marine recruiters who came to his Arizona boarding school seeking Navajo speakers, was quoted as saying: “The Japanese tried everything in their power to try to decipher our code but they never succeeded.”