Nearly eight decades after the end of World War II, just three of the few hundred Navajo Marines who served as code talkers are still alive. As the living history these individuals embody slips away, a collection of code talker oral histories housed at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library is an invaluable tool in preserving their legacies.
The code talker collection in the library's special collections includes eight code talker oral histories recorded at a 1971 reunion in Arizona and 18 pictures of the code talkers taken during the war. In collaboration with the American West Center and with financial support from the Doris Duke Foundation, these histories were acquired by the U as part of larger efforts to preserve Native American language and stories.
“For over 55 years, scholars at the University of Utah have met with individuals representing diverse groups to discuss issues of greatest significance to their communities,” said Todd Samuelson, the associate dean for special collections. “The resultant recordings provide a vital record of the perceptions, accomplishments and way of life within these communities. The voices preserved in the collections at the Marriott Library are an increasingly valuable resource in understanding past issues and perspectives, which remain important today.”
November is Native American Heritage Month—a chance for the campus community to learn about research and educational initiatives, celebrate the rich and diverse cultures of Utah’s tribal nations and push the institution forward.
The oral history collection at the U includes the personal stories of Sidney Bedoni, Alex Williams, Jimmy King Sr., Wilfred Billey, Carl Gorman, Paul Blatchford, John Benally and W. Dean Wilson, all code talkers who have passed away.
Because these individuals were based throughout the Pacific, each story provides unique insight into the varied experiences of code talkers. The histories include stories of the development of the code, the horrors of war, the military promotions code talkers were denied and the struggles some faced in coming home and reintegrating into their past lives.
Robert Peterson, the acting director of the Marine Corps History Division, said primary sources like the oral histories play a foundational role in understanding history and that even when paper reports or photographs or video are lacking, oral histories are invaluable to filling that void.
“The voices of code talkers encrypted the vital command and control of Marine Corps operations in WWII, and today, through the invaluable special collection at the University of Utah, their voices reveal these details for posterity,” Peterson said. “Their voices share the stories of their heroic actions and the incredible heritage and legacy of the Navajo Code Talkers.”
Click here to learn more about the oral histories and how to access them.
Want to learn more about the Navajo Code Talkers? Check out the books below, available at the Marriott Library.