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NSA Historical Figures

Native American Code Talkers

2013 Hall of Honor Inductee

Native American Code Talkers served in both world wars. Their frontline service, keeping U.S. tactical communications invulnerable to enemy eavesdroppers, saved thousands of American and Allied lives.

While the U.S. had adequate cryptographic systems for written communications, the only effective scrambler for voice communications was unsuited for tactical use. The code talkers provided absolute security and speed of encryption and decryption when seconds counted on the battlefield.

The first code talkers were Choctaws in World War I. In World War II, code talkers from many tribes served in the North African, European, and Pacific Theaters of Operations. Tribes known to have participated in World War II were the Assiniboine, Cherokee, Chippewa/Oneida, Choctaw, Comanche, Hopi, Kiowa, Menominee, Muskogee/Creek, Navajo, Pawnee, Sac and Fox, Sioux (Lakota and Dakota dialects). Native Americans served for many reasons ranging from patriotism and defending their land to economic and opportunity to travel. Recognition for their service has included state and local governments, the U.S. Congress, and the French Chevalier Order of Merit.

Because of their secrecy, many code talking programs were not well documented. Also, in sometimes pairs of Native Americans engaged in code talking on an ad hoc basis. For these reasons, historians may not know all the tribes that engaged in this critical task.

The induction of Native American Code Talkers into the NSA/CSS Cryptologic Hall of Honor is intended to remember all code talkers, known and unknown. Their personal bravery saved lives and enabled the success of many operations.