In Memory -- Keith Little
Keith Little, one of the last living Navajo Code Talkers, passed away on Tuesday, January 3rd. He recalls being a young Navajo boy at a reservation school and being reprimanded for speaking his native language. And yet it was this skill that made him so valuable and so exceptional: As a very young man, in 1943, the United States recruited him to join a special encryption unit of the US Marines -- to join 420 other Navajo "Code Talkers" in a unit that would transmit and receive messages in the native Navajo language. The young Navajo men were assigned to all Marine Units and were in the front lines of all of the Pacific battlefields of World War II (Keith was a member of the 4th Marine Division). The code proved unbreakable given its uniqueness and the fact that it was an unwritten language that depended on the tone of a word for its meaning -- so complex that it really needed to be learned in childhood. The specific code eventually grew to include 411 Navajo words. I bumped into Keith, eleven of his fellow Code Talkers on New York's Fifth Avenue located toward the end of the City's Veteran's Day parade (all I was trying to do was to get across Fifth Avenue to meet friends). I first read about them in the book, "With the Old Breed," by Eugene Sledge.