IMNH Hosts Smithsonian Code Talker Exhibit

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Updated: 7/19/2013 6:49 pm
When you think of the tools used to make war, you may think guns, artillery, tanks and the like.But for an elite group of warriors during World Wars I and II, language was their gun and words their bullets on the field of battle. Now, their story is being shared across the country and is making a stop in east Idaho.

“These were just young Native American males, many of which who were in Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding houses at the time,” said Dr. Herbert Maschner, Director of the Idaho Museum of Natural History, “and when the Wars broke out, they enlisted. Often times in the Marines, but sometimes in the Army as well and they were honored to serve as United States soldiers.”

The ”Native Words, Native Warriors” exhibit at the Idaho Museum of Natural History tells the stories of the men who's native language was vital to the success in both World Wars.

“Using an indigenous language, that was totally unknown to the rest of the world and then putting a code within that language and making special words mean special things in radio communications, it was unbreakable,” Dr. Maschner said, “because there was no context anywhere else in the world for our enemies to understand these languages.”

Most famous of the Code Talkers were the Navajo but soldiers from many other nations were a part of the effort.

“It was considered classified information,” said Dr. Maschner. “After World War II, the Code Talkers were not allowed to ever speak of it, it was considered top secret in case they ever needed them again. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that this material became declassified.”

Using their own words, the exhibit weaves the story of the Code Talkers together using banners, video, and other materials to paint a vivid picture of a little known piece of American history.

“This really shows the important role Native American peoples play in the military in Idaho and across the world,” Dr. Maschner said.

Nineteen Choctaw Code Talkers served during the First World War, Native Americans were not considered citizens until 1924. World War 1 ended in 1918.

The “Native Words, Native Warriors” exhibit is will be at the Idaho Museum of Natural History until the end of September and for more information on this and the other features at the museum you can visit
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