Navajo code talker was keynote speaker
BATTLE CREEK, Mich. - It wasn't always possible for Marine Keith Little to
tell his story. For more than two decades when Little, a member of the
Navajo nation and World War II veteran, was asked about the war he was only
allowed to say, "I was a radioman."
It wasn't until 1968 that the top-secret mission of Little and other
"radiomen" like him became declassified. They were Navajo code talkers and
they took part in every Marine assault conducted in the South Pacific from
1942 to 1945. As Marines fought cave-to-cave on Iwo Jima, the Navajo
language crackled over field radios.
Little described how his native language was turned into an unbreakable
military code to an overflow audience of federal employees and community
members at a Nov. 10 Veterans Day ceremony at the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal
Center in Battle Creek. The center is a former WWII military hospital that
is now home to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service and the
Defense Logistics Agency. Both are part of the Defense Logistics Agency.
"The code was so sensitive and top secret it was to be protected at all
costs by the Marine Corps," Little said. "If a code talker dies, that's
okay because the code goes with him. If he's caught, the enemy has a chance
to get to the code. Marines were told if it was inevitable that a code
talker was going to be caught, shoot him."
Defense Logistics Information Service Commande and Marine Col. John
Fitzgerald described Little as "an example to future generations."
The Navajo code is one of the few unbroken codes in military history and
because it still had potential uses when WWII ended, the code talker story
remained classified. "When we left the Marine Corps we were told to keep
our mouths shut about what we did," Little said. "It was kind of sad. We
were an obscure people. We were forgotten."
Fortunately, "forgotten" can be replaced with "remembered."
Dozens of Federal Center employees volunteered to move to an overflow room
and watch the ceremony on closed-circuit television so specially invited
American Indian leaders from Michigan, veterans, honored guests and members
of the community could see Little up close. "The turnout shows that for
veterans, family and friends, today is a special day," Fitzgerald said.
The narrator of the ceremony, Frank Walker, noted how veterans all have
something in common. "Mr. Little answered the call to service when he was
17 years old," he said. "The Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center is fortunate
to also have many employees who also answered their nation's call."
Little told the audience that it was a privilege to be part of a ceremony
that combined Veterans Day and Native American History Month ceremonies. "I
have a strong feeling for veterans," he said. "It is an honor to represent
my people, the Navajo people and my great comrades, the Navajo code
He described how life has changed for the Navajo people. "Where I grew up
it was undeveloped. Since WWII, things have changed. Returning Navajo
veterans after WWII and all the veterans since have established a
foundation of progress. Where I used to live there are now beautiful houses
with running water and electricity. That is progress."
Things have also changed in other ways. Now, when Little is asked about
what he did in WWII, he can tell his story. "Now we have the legacy of the
Navajo code talkers. Now we have to document this contribution," Little
Just as he had done during WWII, Little found just the right words to
describe what needed to be done. Not only did he represent the Navajo
people. On this day, he represented all veterans.