Navajo Code Talker posthumously honored

By:  Rick Nathanson

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For years, World War II Navajo Code Talker Adolph Nagurski didn’t talk much about his war experiences.

In fact, his son, Benjamin Nagurski, said, “I didn’t know my dad had been in the Marines until maybe the 1970s, when it was finally revealed there were such things as Code Talkers.”

On Tuesday, those efforts came to fruition during a ceremony at New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial park, where Sen. Martin Heinrich presented the medal to Benjamin Nagurski, who accepted the posthumous honor on behalf of his late father.

It was Heinrich and members of his staff who were finally able to maneuver through the bureaucratic maze and get the required authorization to release the medal.

Congress authorized the medals, which were produced by the U.S. Mint, in 2000. Many Code Talkers received the medals in a 2001 ceremony at Window Rock, but health problems prevented Nagurski from attending. He died in 2013.

The Congressional Silver Medal honors the Navajo Code Talkers, who used their native language during World War II to transmit and receive secret messages by radio and telephone. It was a code the Japanese were never able to decipher.

The Code Talkers, about 400 Marines in all, were credited with helping win many key battles in the Pacific, and for helping to save the lives of thousands of U.S. and Allied forces.

“That’s the language our Code Talkers spoke. That’s how they communicated with one another. If you were out on the battlefield and heard that, you just heard mumbling,” Begaye said. “This is the language we were prohibited to speak (in boarding schools), a language that people thought had no value, a language we were told if you spoke you would always be a second-class citizen and will never achieve in life.”

The Code Talkers, about 400 Marines in all, were credited with helping win many key battles in the Pacific, and for helping to save the lives of thousands of U.S. and Allied forces.

The Code Talkers instead proved how important and unusual their language is. “We honor them and appreciate them, and today we honor Adolph Nagurski, and his service to this nation and the Marine Corps,” he said.

New Mexicans have played key roles in protecting the United States during wars, “and the Navajo Code Talkers are a central part of that history,” Heinrich said. “We all today owe a debt of gratitude to the Navajo Code Talkers. These brave men developed an unbreakable code with the Diné language that was critical to winning the war in the Pacific in World War II. The Code Talkers’ unbreakable code has been credited with saving literally thousands of GIs.”

As for his and his father’s family name, Benjamin Nagurski said, his father, the eldest of three siblings, was selected as the family member to attend a boarding school, where the principal gave each child an “American” name.

“I don’t know what that principal was thinking,” the younger Nagurski said to laughter.