As the first people to inhabit what is now the United Stats, Native Americans and Alaskan natives have profoundly shaped our country’s character and cultural heritage.
Since 1990, November has been designated as national Native American heritage month, and service members with the 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, hosted an observance at the Surfside club on Camp Kinser on Nov. 30.
“It is important to hold these remembrances because of the sacrifices of the Native Americans,” said Staff Sgt. Edward Fairley Jr., the equal opportunity representative for Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd MLG, III MEF. “If they had not sacrificed the way they did, there is a strong chance we would not be where we are today.”
Such sacrifices involve the Native American involvement during World War II, which proved to be invaluable during the Pacific campaign, according to Staff Sgt. Lisa Thomas, a supply administration and operations specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, III MEF.
“Navajo males between the ages of 17 and 32 were recruited by the Marine Corps for special duties as codetalkers,” said Thomas. “They had to be fluent in English and Navajo and be in good physical condition. In 1942, the first Navajo recruits boarded a bus to go to their seven-week training period at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.”
Thomas, a full-blooded Navajo, grew up on a reservation and read about the achievements of these men in local archives and attentively listened to stories from her grandmother about life on the reservation during World War II.
“The Navajo were not aware that our language was being used during the war,” said Thomas. “It was not until after the codetalkers returned, that people found out our language was used as a successful code during the war.”
Common Navajo words formed the base of this code, which was never broken.
“Enemy forces desperately tried to break this code, but all attempts were unsuccessful,” said Thomas. “Many Native Americans or anyone who looked like they could be Navajo and were prisoners of war, were tortured at the hands of their captors in attempts to crack the code.”
This code helped save millions of lives, according to Fairley.
“Because of how they sacrificed to serve, we (are reinforced to learn) about honor, courage and commitment,” said Fairley. “This is something we hold near and dear to our hearts as Marines. This is why we should recognize every culture that has served and continues to serve.”
While working to forge a brighter future, one cannot shy away from the difficult aspects of our past, according to President Barack Obama.
“As we celebrate national Native American heritage month, let us move forward in the spirit of mutual understanding and mutual trust, confident our challenges can be met and our shared future is bright,” said Obama. “We celebrate in honor of the many ways Native Americans and Alaskan natives have enriched our nation, and we renew our commitment to respect each tribe’s identity with ensuring equal opportunity in pursuing the American dream.”