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November 11, 2009

Veteran’s Code

Navajo Code Talkers.jpg

Props to AP for highlighting this photo of Native-American WW II Marines in NY for Veterans Day. Ironies abound. With Navajo Code Talker Joe Vandever aligned with the ships tower, the photo is really an appeal to consider the inclusivity of the society we’re fighting to defend.

Check out the caption (with apologies for whoever stuck in the “drum up” phrase).

(photo: Seth Wenig/AP. caption:Code Talkers Samuel Holiday, right, Joe Vandever, center, and Frank Chee Willetto look over the USS Intrepid after a birthday celebration for the Marine Corp in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009. The young Navajo Marines, using secret Navajo language-encrypted military terms, helped the U.S. prevail at Iwo Jima and other World War II Pacific battles. The Navajo Code Talkers are in New York to march in the Veterans Day Parade and drum up support for a museum that will preserve their story.)

  • Michael Fagans

    The Code talkers are a long ignored/hidden national treasure.
    Having met and photographed many of them I wish the U.S. better understood their story.
    The sad news is that the only ‘museum’ commemorating their existence is in a Burger King restaurant in Kayenta, AZ. Seriously.
    The Navajo veterans are a serious lot, having walked out of the Keanu Reeves’ movie that was supposedly about their efforts in the war. They were offended because the movie was inaccurate, there was a love story and a non-Navajo was cast as the lead soldier.
    One of the little know parts of their story is that a soldier was assigned to serve with each of the code talkers, not to protect them, but to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.
    They are remarkable Americans and Navajo and deserve this attention. I just hope they are not ‘used’ yet again by the beleganna (white man).

  • bystander

    Thanks, Michael. Do you have that photographic record available anywhere? By the way, I loved gym dreams.

  • Aurora

    Love the warm colors of their clothes; especially against the grey sky, grey ship and in contrast to all the ‘men in suits’ we have seen this week.

  • Michael Fagans

    Thanks bystander.
    This is what I could find quickly:
    http://www.gallupindependent.com/1999-2001/5-22-00.html
    …I will need to go back to the archives because I know I photographed them a number of times.

  • bystander

    Aurora mentioned warm colors. True enough. But when I compare the photograph above to those you took, it seems that the bright yellow has significance. Thanks for the response and your time. Their story is truly a fascinating one. It grabbed me as an adolescent, and it’s never let go.

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003935/theRanticore Julia Grey

    One of the little know parts of their story is that a soldier was assigned to serve with each of the code talkers, not to protect them, but to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.
    I believe that was the actual premise of the dramatic climax of that Code Talkers movie*: the “protector” ALSO has to become the “executioner” if necessary. Primo conflict for the purposes of drama, but it was also TRUE.
    Did it really have Keanu Reeves in it? Huh. I seem to remember Graham Greene was the hero, but I didn’t remember the potentially murderous sidekick being Reeves.

  • Michael Fagans

    Julia:
    Sorry if I inadvertently implied the entire movie was inaccurate.
    I, like the Code Talkers, did not finish watching the movie.
    I am sure, like any story that Hollywood gets its hands on, there are threads of truth
    woven into what they think they have to show.
    I stand corrected on Keanu to, it was Nicolas Cage per http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245562/
    I believe he was floated as the possible Native American lead. Sadly, Adam Beach, who I really
    like in ‘Smoke Signals,’ is not Navajo.

  • Michael Fagans

    I believe they designed their own uniforms.
    Yellow is one of the colors of the spirit or medicine wheel, identifying east, which
    is very important for the Navajo because that is the direction the sun rises. All of
    their traditional homes, hogans, face east. There are other attributes for the color,
    but I do not want to hazard an ill-informed guess as to why they selected it.

  • http://navajocodetalkers.org Brent

    A few things:
    The gold and red are the colors of the marines..that’s where they get the colors of their uniforms.
    A previous poster was right saying there is a museum in a fast food restaurant, but there are a few at major institutions as well (but many of these are a small segment of an entire WWII exhibit).
    They are currently working to raise funds to build a museum that tells the story from THEIR mouths (which is rarely the case). For more visit their OFFICIAL web site at navajocodetalkers.org. There’s some good info.

  • http://www.bartcop.com bartcopfan

    I did see the movie all the way through and never got the idea that Cage’s character was supposed to be native American. IIRC (it’s been several years now), he was placed IN CHARGE OF a bunch of Code Talkers, after being the sole survivor of a bunch of Marines ambushed by Japanese who’d broken a previous code.
    There were several things I disliked about the movie, which I very much wanted to like.
    In the realm of simple things that should be easy to get correct, in the opening sequence there is a shot through a 50-star flag. A 48-star version, which would have been accurate for WWII, has its stars in 6 straight rows and 8 columns, not offset from row to row–one glance is all one needs to confirm. There was no hint that it was a current-day shot before going back in time to the story.
    More substantively, the way the movie showed the Code Talkers used in combat didn’t seem correct. Granted, I’m not from a military background, but I wouldn’t have thought an army’s scouts and main communications group would ALSO be its primary assault group (think first-body-out-of-the-landing-craft), especially w/ such small numbers available.
    I would have expected them to be on the periphery of the action, not that they’re avoiding it or didn’t see plenty of it, but close enough to do their job (as I understood it): observe and report. I wouldn’t want the first one killed to be my radio operator (which I understand was indeed a very dangerous assignment in Vietnam, if not before).
    I’d love to be schooled on that, but it just didn’t sound right to me. The love interest between Cage and whoever she was seemed kinda tacked on to me, like the filmmakers believed no one would be interested in the code talkers themselves.
    Anyway, I thought the movie was OK, but not nearly as good as I’d hoped it would be.

  • http://www.bartcop.com bartcopfan

    I did see the movie all the way through and never got the idea that Cage’s character was supposed to be native American. IIRC (it’s been several years now), he was placed IN CHARGE OF a bunch of Code Talkers, after being the sole survivor of a bunch of Marines ambushed by Japanese who’d broken a previous code.
    There were several things I disliked about the movie, which I very much wanted to like.
    In the realm of simple things that should be easy to get correct, in the opening sequence there is a shot through a 50-star flag. A 48-star version, which would have been accurate for WWII, has its stars in 6 straight rows and 8 columns, not offset from row to row–one glance is all one needs to confirm. There was no hint that it was a current-day shot before going back in time to the story.
    More substantively, the way the movie showed the Code Talkers used in combat didn’t seem correct. Granted, I’m not from a military background, but I wouldn’t have thought an army’s scouts and main communications group would ALSO be its primary assault group (think first-body-out-of-the-landing-craft), especially w/ such small numbers available.
    I would have expected them to be on the periphery of the action, not that they’re avoiding it or didn’t see plenty of it, but close enough to do their job (as I understood it): observe and report. I wouldn’t want the first one killed to be my radio operator (which I understand was indeed a very dangerous assignment in Vietnam, if not before).
    I’d love to be schooled on that, but it just didn’t sound right to me. The love interest between Cage and whoever she was seemed kinda tacked on to me, like the filmmakers believed no one would be interested in the code talkers themselves. As you referenced earlier (so I’m not spoiling it for anyone), the movie made clear that the soldier assigned to each code talker was instructed to protect the CODE, not necessarily the code TALKER. The sequence w/ Christian Slater and his talker was pretty powerful for me, anyway.
    I thought the movie was OK (like a “6 of 10″), but not nearly as good as I’d hoped it would be (like a “9 of 10″).

  • http://www.bartcop.com bartcopfan

    I did see the movie all the way through and never got the idea that Cage’s character was supposed to be native American. IIRC (it’s been several years now), he was placed IN CHARGE OF a bunch of Code Talkers, after being the sole survivor of a bunch of Marines ambushed by Japanese who’d broken a previous code.
    There were several things I disliked about the movie, which I very much wanted to like.
    In the realm of simple things that should be easy to get correct, in the opening sequence there is a shot through a 50-star flag. A 48-star version, which would have been accurate for WWII, has its stars in 6 straight rows and 8 columns, not offset from row to row–one glance is all one needs to confirm. There was no hint that it was a current-day shot before going back in time to the story.
    More substantively, the way the movie showed the Code Talkers used in combat didn’t seem correct. Granted, I’m not from a military background, but I wouldn’t have thought an army’s scouts and main communications group would ALSO be its primary assault group (think first-body-out-of-the-landing-craft), especially w/ such small numbers available.
    I would have expected them to be on the periphery of the action, not that they’re avoiding it or didn’t see plenty of it, but only close enough to do their job (as I understood it): observe and report. I wouldn’t want the first one killed to be my radio operator (which I understand was indeed a very dangerous assignment in Vietnam, if not before).
    I’d love to be schooled on that, but it just didn’t sound right to me. The love interest between Cage and whoever she was seemed kinda tacked on to me, like the filmmakers believed no one would be interested in the code talkers themselves. As you referenced earlier (so I’m not spoiling it for anyone), the movie made clear that the soldier assigned to each code talker was instructed to protect the CODE, not necessarily the code TALKER. The sequence w/ Christian Slater and his talker was pretty powerful for me, anyway.
    I thought the movie was OK (like a “6 of 10″), but not nearly as good as I’d hoped it would be (like a “9 of 10″).

  • http://www.bartcop.com bartcopfan

    Oops, my apologies for the triple post. For whatever reason, my post didn’t appear to be “taking” when I originally did it/them.
    Now I see I shouldn’t have worried. Sorry, all!

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