Traveling cross-country by bicycle has put us in contact with many interesting folks we wouldn’t have met ordinarily. Tonight we staying at the home of a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War; a member of a group of unsung heroes whose stories couldn’t be told until recently.
Roy Hawthorne was a member of the cadre of Navajos who joined the Marines and became “codetalkers.” They fashioned a code based on Navajo words that represented military information. The Japanese never broke the code, and the codetalkers couldn’t talk about their exploits until the government declassified the code in the late 1960s.
The codetalkers, who fought in the Pacific, would speak Navajo words and the receiver would take the first letter of the word’s English translation to get the message. Some Navajo words could be translated directly. Hawthorne said that a Navajo speaker would hear a message in his native tongue about potatoes and eggs and think they were talking about breakfast. Actually, potatoes meant grenades and eggs meant bombs.
Later, Hawthorne got married to Jayne, who hailed from Tennessee. He lost his leg in the Korean War; he wears a prosthetic limb now. He also became a minister for the Baptist church. The Rev. Hawthorne heads the Navajo Capital Baptist Missions in Window Rock.
This morning we got a later than usual start, but we knew we didn’t have far to go to Window Rock today. I like the arid scenery, but the heavy traffic along the Route 666 and 264 corridor didn’t make for a very enjoyable ride.
We found Roy and Jayne’s home in a typical Southwestern -style subdivision. They gave us the run of the house, as Jayne especially liked having folks around. They had a couple of grandchildren who were staying with them at the time.
We all ate out in the front yard under a shade tree. Jayne fixed “Navajo Tacos,” which aren’t Navajo at all, she said, but something someone started making for the tourists and it caught on. The meal is made of Navajo fry bread with different toppings.
After dinner, Roy drove us over to the Window Rock formation. He said that in the old days, Navajo medicine men collected water here for their journeys.
Postscript: Many code talkers did not get the recognition they deserved until recently. Unable to tell even their families for more than 20 years what exactly they did in the war, they formed an organization, the Navajo Code Talkers Association. In the year 2000, Congress voted to award Congressional Gold Medals to the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers and a Congressional Silver Medals to all the others. President George W. Bush issued the gold medals in 2001.
Their stories were later told in the 2002 movie, “Windtalkers,” starring Nicolas Cage as a bodyguard to one of the code talkers.
Hawthorne wrote the forward to a book “Navajo Code Talkers” that was published in 1994, 10 years after we visited him. In 2002, he was interviewed on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program. The 18-minute radio interview with Hawthorne is online at NPR.
Headline: July 5, 1984 –
Knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro, 45, logs his 3,000th strikeout …
Today, we have a short day to Window Rock, about 35 miles. It is the headquarters of the Navajo nation and the Hawthornes invited us for supper and for the night. Another example of how friendly and generous people have been to us.
Got to Window Rock with little trouble, other than the heavily trafficked road and bad shoulder. We went straight away to the laundromat and then called Jayne and Roy. Landed there about 5 p.m., got cleaned up and feasted on Navajo tacos, an original recipe of Jayne’s using fry bread. I had to loosen my belt after the meal, which we ate in the front yard under a cool shade tree. Very pleasant.
After dinner, we started talking about religion, then Roy started telling his stories about the code talkers.
Much more fascinating was Roy’s war stories of the code talkers. He has a nice way about him and is fun to listen to. He took us to Window Rock itself, an amazing formation. The huge, circular hole in the rock was supposedly formed by wind erosion, which is highly likely considering the winds here. [We walked all around the rock itself. Unlike some monuments, which are cordoned off, this one just stood there, with nary a marker or plaque to be found. Roy talked of climbing to the top of the rock, which was probably 80 or 100 feet at the top, with his brother, who would later be killed in Vietnam, when they were little.]
Later, back at their house, we watched Kyle, their 8-year-old grandson, shoot bottle rockets off for a time, a few of which landed fairly close to their neighbors’ homes across the street. And then we retired.
Day 55 — Our cross-country tribe grows