July 24, 2011, 3:36 p.m.
|Joe Morris, Sr.|
The Marine was among about 400 Navajos whose use of their native language in transmitting messages successfully thwarted Japanese code breakers in the Pacific.
"My weapon was my language," World War II Marine veteran Joe Morris Sr. told a crowd of nearly 200 in a San Bernardino park on Veterans Day in 2004. "We saved a lot of lives."
Morris, one of the Navajo code talkers whose use of their native language in transmitting messages successfully thwarted Japanese code breakers in the Pacific during World War II, died July 17 at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial VA Medical Center in Loma Linda of complications from a stroke, said his daughter, Colleen Anderson. He was 85.
Born on the Navajo reservation in Indian Wells, Ariz., Morris was one of about 400 Navajo code talkers who underwent extensive training at a communications school at Camp Pendleton to memorize the undecipherable code based on their complex, unwritten language.
The code grew to more than 600 Navajo terms by the end of the war. A submarine, for example, became "besh-lo," which means iron fish in Navajo. A bomber was "jay-sho," or buzzard in Navajo.
Words also could be spelled out using Navajo terms representing individual letters of the alphabet.
"We had to learn all of the codes, everything about airplanes, everything about ships," Morris told the St. Petersburg [Fla.] Times in 1999. "We would get released from school and study until midnight. Our instructors were all Navajos. They told us to get with it and not fool around. [They said] when you go overseas, you're going to need it."
In a 2003 interview with the Navajo Times, Morris said they were told "if you get captured by the Japanese, don't you ever tell them what you learned here."
If captured, Morris said, their instructions were simple: "Just die for your country."