Here's the story of the Native American code talkers who Trump made his 'Pocahontas' comments to

When President Donald Trump held an event honouring Navajo code talkers who served in World War II, he took the opportunity to poke fun at Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s reported Native heritage by referring to her as “Pocahontas,” drawing attention away from the incredible exploits of the code talkers themselves.

Trump’s Monday comments were immediately denounced as “careless” by Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, who also stated that the three men were “not pawns to advance a personal grudge.”

Sen. John McCain also stood up for the code talkers in a tweet he posted on Tuesday.

“Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Navajo Code Talkers, whose bravery, skill & tenacity helped secure our decisive victory over tyranny & oppression during WWII,” McCain wrote. “Politicizing these genuine American heroes is an insult to their sacrifice.”

Here are the stories of the three men Trump met with, who together with many other Navajo code talkers, helped the United States win World War II:


The Navajo are a Native American ethnic group living in the American Southwest, and their main reservation, which occupies the Four Corners area of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, is the largest reservation in the United States today.

The Navajo are the largest Native American ethnic group in the United States today. Although their language was the one used to create code in World War II, people from other Native American groups like the Hopi and the Comanche were recruited as code talkers as well.

Sources: NavajoPeople.org, Indian Country Today


At the beginning of US involvement in WWII, the Japanese were breaking every code the Americans came up with. In response, World War I veteran Philip Johnston suggested a novel idea to the US Marine Corpse in 1942 — using the Navajo language as a code.

US Indian Service via APA Navajo man watches over his flock of sheep on the Navajo reservation in 1940, just before the US entered World War II

Johnston was the son of missionaries, and had grown up speaking Navajo on the Navajo reservation even though he himself was not Native. He was inspired to use the Navajo language as a code after seeing Native Americans communicating with each other in the US Army during the First World War.

Sources: Newsweek, National Museum of the American Indian


The Navajo language was the perfect language to use because it had no alphabet, and as a result, there were no materials the Japanese could use to learn it. The Marine Corps loved Johnston’s idea, and began recruiting young Navajo men as code talkers.

The National ArchivesThe first 29 Navajo code talkers at their swearing in ceremony at Fort Wingate, NM in 1942

One of the code talkers at Trump’s event on Monday, Peter MacDonald, said the new recruits were initially not told they were going to be used to speak in code.

“They were just asked, ‘Do you want to join the Marines? You want to fight the enemy? Come join the Marines.’ So they volunteered,” MacDonald said.

Some, though, were drafted.

“We were drafted. They made us go. I didn’t volunteer,” Franklin Shupla, a code talker from the Hopi tribe, said.

Sources: Newsweek, National Museum of the American Indian


Soon enough, the recruits were brought to Camp Elliott near San Diego, where they were tasked with creating a code using their native Navajo language. The code they came up with used Navajo words for animals to describe military vehicles, as well as transliterations of military terms that did not exist in Navajo.

CIAA few examples of aeroplane types and their corresponding Navajo code words.

By the end of the war, the code had been expanded from an initial 211 words to over 600 words, which the code talkers all committed to memory. Here’s a complete list of all code words that had been developed by war’s end.

Source:The White House Press Office, CIA


After completing all the necessary training, the code talkers were shipped out to the Pacific Theatre, where 15 code talkers were dropped off for their first battle at Guadalcanal on August 25, 1942 with the 1st Marine Corps.

Anonymous/Department of Defence via APUS forces landing on Guadalcanal in the West Pacific to seize it from the Japanese Empire in 1942.

Sources: Newsweek,

The White House Press Office


The Japanese failed to break the Navajos’ code at Guadalcanal, and the Marine Corps was impressed by their performance. After Guadalcanal, Navajo code talkers were deployed in every single operation the Marine Corps participated in in the Pacific Theatre.

The National ArchivesNavajo code talkers Henry Bake and George Kirk in 1943

Sources: Newsweek,

The White House Press Office


During the infamous Battle of Iwo Jima in early 1945, 800 coded messages were transmitted between code talkers without a single mistake. Major Howard Connor said later, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”

Sources: Newsweek,

The White House Press Office


The activities of the code talkers during World War II were kept secret from the public until 1968. In 1982, Ronald Reagan established Navajo Code Talkers Day on August 14, and in 2001, the original 29 code talkers received Congressional Gold Medals for their service.

Sources: Newsweek


Every code talker at Monday’s event carried out acts of heroism during the war.


97-year-old Fleming Begaye Sr. was a code talker at the Battles of Tarawa where his landing vessel was destroyed, forcing him to swim to shore to avoid death. If that wasn’t enough, he also suffered injuries at the Battle of Tinian, and spent a year in a naval hospital.

Source: The White House Press Office


Thomas Begay served at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945 where he was a code talker with the 5th Marine Division. He later enlisted in the US Army and served at the Battle of Chosin in the Korean War.

Source: The White House Press Office


90-year-old Peter MacDonald enlisted when he was only 15 years old in 1944. He served first in Guam and then in northern China, where his division and two others forced the last Japanese forces still fighting in the Pacific to surrender on October 24, 1945.

MacDonald is the president of the last 14 surviving code talkers from World War II.

Source: The White House Press Office


At Monday’s event, Peter MacDonald said his goal is to create a national Navajo Code Talker Museum to remember how he his fellow veterans used their unique cultural background to help America win the Second World War.

Alex Wong/Getty ImagesNavajo veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima remember the battle on its 65th anniversary in 2010.

MacDonald said he felt it was vital for the code talker museum to be built.

“Why?” MacDonald asked the crowed at Monday’s event. “Because what we did truly represents who we are as Americans. America, we know, is composed of diverse community. We have different languages, different skills, different talents, and different religion. But when our way of life is threatened, like the freedom and liberty that we all cherish, we come together as one. And when we come together as one, we are invincible. We cannot be defeated.”

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