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News Release
October 31, 1996
National Atomic Museum Exhibit Honors WWII Navajo 'Code Talkers'

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- U.S. military radio transmissions intercepted by Japanese intelligence during World War II were spoken in such an unusual lexicon that Japan regarded the Americans' "secret code" unbreakable. The code, based on the Navajo language, was used by a select group of Navajos from New Mexico and Arizona who served as signalmen with Marine combat units from May 1942 until the war's end.

A new photography exhibit at the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque (Wyoming Blvd. on Kirtland Air Force Base), titled "Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers," provides a glimpse into the contemporary lives of the 150-200 surviving code talkers. During World War II, the code talkers developed and used a system of fewer than 500 Navajo "code words" representing common military terms. The linguistic complexity of their language frustrated Japanese intelligence efforts, and many believe it played a significant role in the American offensive at Iwo Jima. The code was never broken.

The exhibit, which runs Nov. 1-Dec. 31, includes forty 16x20-inch black-and-white photographs taken by Japanese-American photographer Kenji Kawano from 1982-1988. Kawano began photographing Navajos in 1974 and later served as the tribe's official photographer and as a staff photographer for the daily Navajo Times Today. He now lives in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

Kawano says his photographs and book (Northland Press, Flagstaff, Ariz., 1990) honor the patriotism of the code talkers. "These men did something really marvelous," he says. "The only way I could tell their story and help change attitudes about Native Americans was to publish a book. I hope it will make people rethink American Indians." Kawano's story was the subject of a December 1991 National Geographic article.

Dr. Samuel Billison, president of the Navajo Code Talker Association and a code talker with the 5th Marine Division when it landed on Iwo Jima in March 1945, will be available to the news media on the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 13, from noon to 2 p.m. An opening reception is planned for 5:30 that evening at the museum.

The exhibit is sponsored by the National Atomic Museum and Sandia National Laboratories' American Indian Outreach Committee. Financial support for the traveling exhibit is provided by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sandia National Laboratories, a multiprogram national laboratory managed by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, operates the National Atomic Museum for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy.
Media contact:
Julie Butler, jbutler@sandia.gov (505) 284-3233

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