Code Talkers – With Veteran Peter MacDonald: It’s Veterans Day, and we want to honor those who have served our country by telling one of their stories. Today we reveal a little-known strategies that was vital to our victories in war. What was the only military code in modern history never broken by an enemy? Tune in to learn of the unique legacy the Native American tribes left, as Navajo Peter MacDonald shares his World War II experience!
Air Date: 11/11/2021
Guest: Peter MacDonald
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Transcription note: Â As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
Faith and the Culture
Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. It’s WallBuilders Live. We normally are talking about the hot topics of the day from a biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective. But it’s Veterans Day, and that’s a special day for us to honor those who are willing to pay the ultimate price for us that they go out there put their life on the line so we can live that freedom. Well, that is a biblical thing to do. We wouldn’t have a constitution without it, and, of course, a ton of great history to talk about in that regard.
But we’re here with David and Tim Barton. And guys, we got a great guest coming up later in the program, actually one of the Navajo code talkers. And I know, folks, when they hear that, if they’re familiar with anything, they might be familiar with the Nicolas Cage movie. But we don’t know much about this one from World War II, but it was critical to win in the war.
Yeah, in war, you really want to try to infiltrate the communications of the other side, you want to know what the enemy’s saying, how they’re saying it, what they’re telling their people to do, which means you try to intercept their communications. In World War II, the Germans have what’s called the enigma code machine. And so we finally broke that, but they didn’t know we broke it so they’re sending the message out in their secret code, but we’re deciphering them so we’re knowing what they’re doing and where they’re going. Everything is about figuring out where your enemy is going.
With George Washington back in the American war for independence, he said, that was the big deal. He didn’t know what the British were up to and so he wanted a spy network. And so you had to call for spy ring. And they kept these intelligence efforts going in different other venues. And even by the end, as General Washington assigned general Marquis de Lafayette to do something intelligence-wise, you bring in black patriots like James Armistead, who’s so key to ending the American war for independence. So, it’s all about knowing what the other side is saying and doing.
Now, one of the interesting things was that even back in World War II, they said, you know what, so most of the Germans or the Italians or whoever is on the opposite side, they’ve probably never heard these Native American languages where the tribes may not be particularly big, and you don’t have a lot of literature written in that language or whatever. Way back in World War I, they started out taking two Choctaw officers and having those guys communicate on radio back and forth between the groups. And the Germans and the others never figured out what they were saying, they said well that’s good.
The Native Americans’ Legacy
So then in World War I, they brought in Cheyenne, Native Americans and Comanche and Cherokee and Osage and the Yankton Sioux, and the enemy never broke those codes. So when we get into World War II, it’s amazing that this really expanded. In World War II, that they brought in not only the Navajo, and that’s probably the most famous group, but they had the Asin boy and the Cherokee and the Cheyenne.
And his ship won the Choctaw and the Comanche and the Cree and the Crow, and the Hopi and the Kiowan, I mean, tribe after tribe after tribe. And some of the tribes were assigned to communication units that went into the Pacific Theater, and some were those that went into the European theater.
And so as you look in the Pacific Theater, it’s interesting the Navajos, that’s where they were assigned is over the Pacific side, and that was really brutal stuff. And the enemy, by the way, they were specifically target officers, just as what happened when George Washington was a young officer back in the French and Indian War.
And the British officers and the American officers were targeted by the Indians and by the French, so always targeted officers, you always targeted communication, guys, because if you can disrupt communications, and even back in the Civil War, it was the flag bearers.
Because he’s going to the battle in the Civil War, and you’ve got cannons rolling around you, you got people screaming as they’re dying, or whatever, you didn’t have a way to communicate, and you have your officer sitting up on a hill, but they can’t radio and say, hey, you need to turn north or there’s an ambush waiting for you off on your flank.
So what happened was the flag bearer would take the flag and he would run it the enemy; as he saw stuff, he would turn to the right or left, and everybody else would watch the flag bearer. And so if he wield right, the entire unit would wield right, if he wield to the left, they would go left.
Well, guess who the enemy wants to shoot down? It’s the flag bearers. And so it’s always communication that you’re after and it was no different in World War II. And so what happened is, particularly with the Navajo Code Talkers, and the other tribes as well, you’d put two Navajo or two Comanche or Creek or whoever, together over the same radio.
Navajo Code Talkers
And so one would be radio and out messages, the other be receiving the messages, and they would be writing them and translating them and give to the officers, but they had to do this on the run all the time. If the radio guys ever settled down and stopped, then the Japanese snipers would take them down. So it was quite a feat to be able to do what they did.
And there’s only, I think, three Navajo Code Talkers left alive today from World War II. And this is such an unknown part of the story of World War II and why we were able to win. As a matter of fact, you had officers at Iwo Jima that said we would never have won Iwo Jima had it not been for the Navajo Code Talkers. So that’s how significant they were in some of these major battles and we just hear so little day.
And so we got Peter MacDonald, who not only was in World War II as the Navajo Code Talker in the Pacific, but he went on to become the chief of the Navajo tribe. It’s going to be a lot of fun to go back and hear his memories of experiences that he experienced in World War Two.
You know, guys, we always look at these World War II interviews as very special, right. I mean, they were losing them every day, and it’s just so cool to have stories from that long ago and firsthand accounts. But to have one this special and this unique that is something that most people don’t know about and that there were so few of them in the first place, this is pretty cool. Alright guys, quick break. We’ll be right back. Peter MacDonald, our special guest on WallBuilders Live.
Courageous Leaders Collection
Hi, friends, this is Tim Barton of WallBuilders. This is a time when most Americans don’t know much about American history or even heroes of the faith. And I know oftentimes we, parents, we’re trying to find good content for our kids to read.
And if you remember back to the Bible, to the book of Hebrews, it has the faith Hall of Fame where they outline the leaders of faith that had gone before them. Well, this is something that as Americans, we really want to go back and outline some of these heroes, not just of American history, but heroes of Christianity in our faith as well.
I want to let you know about some biographical sketches we have available on our website. One is called The Courageous Leaders Collection. And this collection includes people like Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Francis Scott Key, George Washington Carver, Susanna Wesley, even the Wright brothers. And there’s a second collection called Heroes of History. In this collection, you’ll read about people like Benjamin Franklin or Christopher Columbus, Daniel Boone, George Washington, Harriet Tubman; friends, the list goes on and on. This is a great collection for your young person to have and read and it’s a providential view of American and Christian history. This is available at www.wallbuilders.com. That’s www.wallbuilders.com.
A Moment from AMERICAN HISTORY
This is Tim Barton from Wallbuilders with another moment from American history. American patriot Paul Revere wrote to alert Americans of the impending arrival of the British, but he also sought patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock to warn them that the British were seeking their execution.
Adams and Hancock were staying with the Reverend Jonas Clark in Lexington. When they asked pastor Clark if his church was ready for the approaching British, he replied “I’ve trained them for this very hour, they will fight and if need be, die under the shadow of the house of God.” Later that morning, 70 men from his church, a several 100 British in the first battle of the war for independence, as Pastor Clark affirmed, “The militias that morning were the same who filled the pews of the church meeting house on the Sunday morning before.” The American church was regularly at the forefront of the fight for liberty.
For more information on this pastor and other colonial patriots, go to wallbuilders.com.
Welcome back to Wallbuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us today. We are honored today to have one of only three surviving Navajo Code Talkers from World War II. Peter MacDonald is with us. Mr. MacDonald, thank you so much for your time today.
Welcome Peter MacDonald
I got to tell you, this is one of those war stories that that frankly, too many people don’t know, and maybe we only know from the movie that was made about it a few years back. But we’re so excited to get to talk to you firsthand about your experience, and how critical it was for us to be able to have the Navajo code that was used in World War II. So I want to back up though, just find out how you got started in the war. How were you recruited? My understanding is you were pretty young.
Yeah. So well, the moment you’re talking about the wind talk made by MKN, really didn’t tell 1/50 of Navajo Code Talkers were all about. Most of the story was about Nicolas Cage, but only a small portion of what we did was in that movie. I joined United States’ Marine at age 15. I actually volunteered to join United States Marine…
I lied about my age
15, wow, that is young.
At time, I was 17 because they were taking 17-year-olds.
Now what kind of training did you have to go through when you first joined?
The Marine Corps
Well, I went through a regular Marine Corps boot camp with all the other Marines going through a boot camp. And then after that combat training, and then after that, they put us through a Marine Corps communications school to learn how to operate different communication equipment that was been in use at that time, including how to run telephone lines from coconut trees to coconut trees, and also how to make minor repairs on the field of the radio equipment that were being in use at that time.
Tell me how did they figure out that you could use this code and that it wouldn’t be discovered that because they never figured it out, right?
Yes. Well, none of us Navajo Marines knew what we were recruited for. All we know is we were recruited to fight the war in the Pacific. And then when we went through these combat trainers with everybody else, it is what it was all about. And then we just kind of wondered while we were given training and communication because after combat training, each individual choose area they want to fight the war.
Like, there are some guys who want to be with artillery unit or with a machine gun unit or with tank units, and some would want to be in communication. And we didn’t have any choice, we thought everybody went through there.
Throughout the entire war, about how many Navajo served as code talkers?
It started with 29 young Navajos in May of 1942, the early part of the war. And by the time the war ended, there were over 400 of us that were trained as Navajo Code Talkers.
And that was throughout all six Marine divisions, right?
Every division had Navajo Code Talkers. In 1942, there was only one Marine Division, first Marine Division. And then, of course, it grew. By the time the war ended, there were six Marine divisions, and each division were allocated at least 80 Navajo Code Talkers.
And which division were you assigned to?
A Heritage to Be Proud Of
I was with a first marine brigade at first during the cleanup of Guam. And then, after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I was transferred to a sixth Marine Division and ended up in St. Tar China.
And how about your fellow Marines, did they know what you were there for and what you were doing?
No, only the ones that were in communication knew that we were sending messages, mostly top secret confidential messages using our language. So they’re the only ones that knew. All the other arrays did not know. As a matter of fact, some of the Navajo Code Talkers who are assigned to cover the front line, regimental unit, battalion units, beach command posts, and all of those.
So those who are assigned to the front sometimes are mistaken for Japanese. So they stick a bait net behind this Code Talkers, and tack them down to where they kept Japanese prisoners and, of course, we had to call for help, get a colonel to verify us that we are not Japanese, we are United States’ Marines.
Wow. Okay. I got to ask you, how did it feel, you had to have been so proud of the fact that number one, you were serving your nation and all of that, but also the fact that your Navajo heritage was helping to win the war, and that there were so few of you that could do what you were doing, that had to make you proud?
Over 400 of us that serve as Navajo Code Talkers just felt that we were just part of the units in the war against the Japanese in the Pacific. Everybody had their duties. Machine gunners had their duty. Artillery people have their duty. Marine airways had their duty. And communication units, us and those who have communicated in English, we have our duty too.
So we just felt we were part of the several elements used to fight a war in the Pacific. Now, of course, not until 23 years after the war we became aware of how critical this unique legacy of World War II was the use of the Navajo code.
So even after the war, you couldn’t talk about it?
Yes, upon discharge in 1945 and 46, they told us don’t tell anyone what you did; if they asked you questions, just tell them you are radio man, that’s all, nothing more until Navajo Code is declassified.
I wonder If they thought they may use it again if we ended up in another war before then and that’s why they wanted to keep it a secret, do you think?
Yes. One of the thing we learned is that Navajo Code actually became official United States military code after the first battle on Guadalcanal, and then it remained one of the communication device for all top secret confidential messages throughout the entire war. So most of the other codes that were being used in the Pacific was deciphered by Japanese, they broke most of those codes. But the only code they could not break was Navajo Code. And they tell us after the war that Navajo Code was the only military code in modern history never broken by an enemy.
Wow. That’s incredible.
For all of us, Navajo, leaving the reservation to fight a war in the Pacific, as a matter of fact, there are other Navajos fighting in the Navy, in the Army, in Air Force. But most all of us were educational venture as well. We didn’t know all the things we saw off the reservation actually existed. We’d never seen skyscrapers. We’ve never seen huge traffic on streets. These were just all something new to us. So it was a real learning process.
The Realities of War
But the biggest thing that I remember was the ugliness of war. Some of those islands they were these poor natives, the kids, some of them without mothers or their papa. And in China where I spent nearly a year up there trying to get all the Japanese to surrender to us, there would be hundreds of small Chinese kids wondering in the street from three-years-old, four-years-old.
And they all tugging at our trousers and saying, [inaudible 17:41] it means, give me some money help me, give me some money help me. And in the evening day, we’re just all laid together on a street and sleep, and then they get up the next morning and go about scrounging things to eat or to clothe themselves. Ugly! Ugly! [inaudible 18:08]. That’s what really came home was knowing I shall never see that here in America.
Man. Well, Mr. MacDonald, can I ask how old are you today?
I will be 93 shortly,
93 Shortly, when’s your birthday?
My birthday as my mother tells me is somewhere in May or April. But the federal government not only gave me my name, but they also designated when I was born. That gave me a December 16th as my birthday. So that’s my official birthday by the federal government is December 16th. But my mother who gave me to birth says I was born in April or May in the springtime of 1928.
Since Navajo don’t have calendars back in those days, or even days of the week, anything like that, we just go by month and season. So we never had birthday parties on Navajo until after the war. We learned that there’s such a thing as birthday parties that white people and other nations have for their children and their own family.
Wow. Tell me about after you came home.
Yes, I came home on 1946. And my family asked me you know what I did and all that, I couldn’t tell them other than just to tell them look, I was a radioman, don’t ask me any more questions. And actually start concentrating my future. I went back to school because I was a sixth grade dropout, and I use GI Bill to get my GED and what down to University of Oklahoma, and got my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. And I’ve worked in Hall Howard Hughes in California.
Wow. I got to ask do you have any Howard Hughes stories for us? Was he an interesting character to work for?
Absolutely. Absolutely. I’d say best person I have ever worked for. And he was very impressed with my work, so he asked me to go back to the reservation and hire 10 more Navajos. And I kept telling him look, there first electrical engineer graduated, there’s only probably about four or five engineering graduates on Navajos. He won’t believe it, he said, no, Pete, I want you to go back. I’m giving you 10 days, and I want 10 more Navajos to be hired. Well, of course when your boss says something, you got to do it.
So I went back, spent 10 days trying to find Navajo who have a degree in engineering, zero, and then I went out to some other schools see if there are any of them in schools, zero. So when I came back, I just report to him, look, I said I did what you asked me to do, but I couldn’t find any Navajos.
That’s something else. Man. That’s incredible. What an incredible life you have enjoyed. That’s amazing. I am so thankful that you came on and shared with us. It’s good for us to recognize the sacrifice it took to enjoy the freedom that we enjoy. And just an amazing story. God bless you, sir. Thank you for your time today and being willing to share with us.
Yes. Well, thanks for contacting us. And this unique Navajo Code Talker story really needs to be told. We are working on a museum right now, the four of us who are still alive. Of course, all of us are in our 90s. I’m the youngest of the four still alive. We want this museum to be filled so that entire nation, even part of the rest of the world should know how our diversity when we get together from our different stations with different language, different skills, different talents, and when we do get together, we are invincible.
We can defeat anything that comes to destroy the freedom and liberty and peace that we all cherish. So I want them to know that. That’s why we want this museum to be put up so that our children, your children, everybody’s children can go through that museum and really learned how it is that when we are together, we can defend anything, anybody.
Oh, that’s good. Well, thank you, sir. I really appreciate your time today.
Alright, thank you.
Stay with us, you’re listening to WallBuilders Live.
WORLD WAR II VETERANS
Hey, friends, if you’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifice they make to make our freedoms possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here on WallBuilders Live. Once in a while, we get an opportunity to interview veterans that have served on those front lines that have made incredible sacrifices have amazing stories that we want to share with the American people.
One of the very special things we get to do is interview World War II veterans. You’ve heard those interviews here on WallBuilders Live from folks that were in the Band of Brothers to folks like Edgar Harrell that survived being Indianapolis, there’s so many other great stories you’ve heard on WallBuilders Live. You have friends and family that also serve.
If you have World War II veterans in your family that you would like to have their stories shared here on WallBuilders Live, please email us at [email protected], [email protected] Give us a brief summary of the story and we’ll set up an interview. Thanks so much for sharing here on WallBuilders Live.
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. So thankful for Peter MacDonald joining us today. And we would encourage you to share these interviews. No, it is Veterans Day. It’s a great time for you to be able to send these around to your friends and family, just say hey, let’s pause for a minute and be thankful today for the freedom that we have and those who pay such an incredible price to make it possible for us.
Back with David and Tim. You know, David, just like you said, I mean without that, I mean it was so unique and so cool how the Navajo Code was never broken.
Yeah, you’re right, Rick. And also, by the way, there’s no evidence that the other Native American languages were broken either. These are so key to us winning World War II.
And guys, let me also point out as obviously, we are highlighting this incredible hero from World War II. Because it is Veterans Day, let’s also just quickly acknowledge because we don’t have much time left in the program, that for every veteran out there listening right now we appreciate you too.
Because I know over the last 20 plus years, with so many people that have been involved in Afghanistan and seeing what’s happening now, there’s a lot of people that are frustrated and disappointed and discouraged with the current direction of leadership has taken and what seems to be a failure on some regards from this leadership with Afghanistan.
So first of all, for the veterans, we are just so grateful for you, we appreciate you. For everybody out there, if you know a veteran, make sure that we are appreciating them on Veterans Day. One of the cool things about some of these veterans, some that just like Peter MacDonald, his life exemplifies is when he was 15, he said, hey, I’m ready. He said, I’d lied and tell them I was 17.
But you start to hear the stories and you hear the stories of people who are incredible patriots, who love this nation, and want to help this nation be better than the current situation it’s dealing with and overcome these troubles and these trials and these issues.
Code Talkers – With Peter MacDonald
And it’s why a lot of people join the military, including guys like Peter MacDonald’s. So we’re so grateful for him for joining us today. And certainly, for all the other veterans out there listening, we’re so grateful for you too, guys, know that we’re praying for you, and I’m not saying guys, guys and girls, we’re praying for you. We so appreciate you on this Veterans Day.
Yeah, we’re so thankful and we wouldn’t be enjoying what we have now. I mean, even when we go out and speak and we get to meet veterans after our speech or something, you know, it’s like, hey, we wouldn’t get to do what we’re doing now if you had done what you did. So thank you very much. And folks, let your family members and friends know as well how much you appreciate them. Thanks so much for listening today. You’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live.
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