When I read the title of this book, I thought it was another story of a war hero. I thought Navajo was a code name for an elite military sector. To learn that the Navajo are a people with a unique culture was very interesting. Their impact on the course of the war despite the discrimination was very touching and is very teachable.
This book is about the experience of a Navajo Indian and his participation in the Second World War. It is a very detailed account of the life of the Ned Begay whose real name is Kii Yazhi and his time as a Navajo Marine of World War II (Bruchac, 2005).
Ned Begay is an old man telling his grandchildren how he came to receive several medals for his service in World War II. Born on Navajo land, Ned is forced to go to boarding school by his uncle who believes that it is important for Navajo Indians to know the English language in order to avoid conflict based on miscommunication with the white man.
At the school, Ned is treated poorly, as are other Indians. They are told that using their own sacred language is wrong and that their culture and everything they have ever known is also wrong. It is here that Neds real name which is Kii Yazhi, is changed to Ned Begay.
Ned survives boarding school and decides to go onto to high school. While here, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour. Ned hears that the government is recruiting Navajo men who are fluent in both English and Navajo into the military. The legal age to join the military is 17-32 but Ned is still very young to join so he asks his parents to lie about his age since there is no way to prove that he is indeed below the age limit. They did not have birth certificates back then. Neds parents refuse to do this and he has to wait to be old enough.
Ned joins the marines. His family throws a ceremony for his protection in the time he is away from home. Here he has to shave his head and wear his hair short as opposed to the Navajo culture. He and his fellow soldiers are immediately placed into training to become Code Talkers. The code is new and constantly changing and they have to learn it proficiently as they are not allowed to keep anything on which the code is written. Ned learns that the code is based on the Navajo language because it is the hardest to learn (Bruchac, 2005). They were allowed to use their language without limitations and this made Ned very proud to be a marine. Also after hearing how inferior they were all they their lives, Ned is proud to know that only they are capable enough to do this important job. It is satisfying to prove this in this vital area.
After training, Ned and the others are shipped to Pearl Harbour where they meet other experienced Code Talkers and teach them the changes to the code. He was among those who invaded Bougainville. Soon afterwards, Ned and the others moved on to Guam. Eventually he finds himself a part of the invasion on Iwo Jima; which he describes as an intense battle especially because he spends a whole night in a hole next to a dead man, and followed the Marines onto Okinawa. When the war finally ended he was the first to know because he was a Code Talker.
It is important to know that all through-out the war, even after he goes to the battlefield, Ned and his Navajo comrades constantly expand the code and manipulate it to their communication needs. They earn considerable respect from their non-Navajo colleagues.
After the war, Ned and the Code Talkers are not allowed to tell anyone of what they did during the war. It was not until 1969 that the Code Talkers were allowed to share the truth. Now Ned shares the story with his grandchildren to show them that it is okay to be proud of their heritage (Bruchac, 2005). The best part of this story is when the Navajo recruits do all the tasks at hand without problems proving that they are better than the white soldiers. It is also very interesting that what the whites looked down upon was what made the biggest difference in the American efforts during the World War. You cant help but feel satisfied knowing that the teachers at Neds school were probably rooting for them and the success of their sacred language to win the war when they had shunned it all their lives.
The main character Ned is very brave to enlist at that young age. He is full of conviction enabling him to be able to make it through and be able to do a lot. He is stubborn too in a reserved, inconspicuous kind of way while in school, seeming to some out with the best of both worlds (Bruchac, 2005).
This book made me think more about the way I treat or see people. The underestimating of a certain person is not right, he or she may be the best solution to most of my problems and it is always good to consider the impact one might have on your life before you disregard them.
It is quite irritating how the teachers in Neds school teach them how bad their culture is. Teaching them how inferior they are instead of instilling useful values to these children who hold their language and culture very dear. When I got to the end of this book I felt very satisfied. They won the war and while it is sad that for the first few years they cannot take credit for the end of the war, it is good to know that they overcame their situation and helped shape the America that we have come to know.
Bruchac, J. (2005). Code talker. New York: Dial Books.
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