Talkin’ Iwo Jima Blues

In preparing for our trip to Arizona, I had my memory refreshed regarding the Navajo code talkers and their important work during the Pacific campaigns in World War II. It started when a travel guide mentioned there was a museum exhibit dealing specifically with this group of men located within the Burger King restaurant in Kayenta AZ. Burger King, says I? What’s the story there?

code talker was a person employed by the military during wartime to use a little-known language as a means of secret communication. The term is now usually associated with United States service members during the world wars who used their knowledge of Native American languages as a basis to transmit coded messages. In particular, there were approximately 400 to 500 Native Americans in the United States Marine Corps whose primary job was to transmit secret tactical messages. Code talkers transmitted messages over military telephone or radio communications nets using formally or informally developed codes built upon their native languages. The code talkers improved the speed of encryption and decryption of communications in front line operations during World War II. 

Wikipedia: Code Talkers

So on Friday evening, when we arrived in Kayenta, of course we went immediately to that restaurant where we each ordered a Whopper and sat down across from the exhibit. It turned out that the father of the restaurant’s owner had been one of those code talkers, which explained the location of this collection of mementos.

On returning home, Robin and I tried to watch the movie Windtalkers, which dealt with these men and their work. I say “tried” because the movie was so violent that we gave up about 2/3 of the way through. But the dramatic thread of the film was that each Navajo code talker in was assigned a bodyguard, ostensibly to protect them from harm from other Americans, who thought they looked too much like the Japanese to be trusted. But there were secrets within secrets in this program.

The Navajo code talkers were commended for the skill, speed, and accuracy they demonstrated throughout the war. At the Battle of Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. These six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error. Connor later said, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”

After incidents where Navajo code talkers were mistaken for ethnic Japanese and were captured by other American soldiers, several were assigned a personal bodyguard whose principal duty was to protect them from their own side. According to Bill Toledo, one of the second group after the original 29, they had a secret secondary duty: if their charge was at risk of being captured, they were to shoot him to protect the code. Fortunately, none was ever called upon to do so.

Wikipedia: Code Talkers

So Nicolas Cage played a man whose orders were to shoot Adam Beach’s character if the possibility of capture seemed real and imminent. All to protect the code. Good story that, even better because it was true.

The code talkers received no official recognition for their highly dangerous service until the program was de-classified in 1968. Another several decades had to pass before President Bill Clinton finally presented the remaining living members with medals, in the year 2000.

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From The New Yorker

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You might notice, but probably haven’t, that I am a thief with some discernment. This is with regard to the cartoons that I regularly insert in the blog entries. I don’t have permission to use them, and I try to salve my conscience by citing the source each time. If I could draw worth a damn I wouldn’t have to steal, I tell myself, so I cope with my handicap in this illicit way.

Anyway, the discernment comes in when I select those to use. The overwhelming majority come from the New Yorker archives. Not from the present-day issues. Why? Because I don’t think that the present-day cartoons are nearly as good as the old ones. So many of them in recent issues seem more self-important posturing than funny, at least to me. I blame the cartoon editor for this (a person whose name I do not know and do not wish to know) because they are doing the choosing for each issue.

Should I complain to the magazine … ask them please to try to return to the styles of the past in this area? I’m afraid that would require more chutzpah than I possess, being only a mild-mannered larcenist and a self-confessed one at that. I suppose that there is the small chance that I would be clapped in irons and sent to some throwback dungeon for petty criminals where the ceiling drips fetid water constantly and rats as big as javelinas play about one’s feet.

Truth is I can’t take that chance. I have a rather delicate constitution that doesn’t do well with dampness, and my appreciation for the intimate company of rodents of any size is extremely limited. But should you find that one day in the future the blog suddenly stops without explanation, well … you are encouraged to use your imaginations freely.

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From The New Yorker

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The wind has been whistling … nay, roaring … about our ears ever since our return from Arizona, gusting frequently to 40 mph and beyond. Yesterday Robin peered out of our front window and said “There goes somebody’s garbage can.” I turned to look and realized that it was one of ours and it was now headed for the New Mexico border. A quick interception and a repositioning of the wanderer to a less vulnerable spot followed.

The air is filled with a fine dust, forming a beige-colored haze over the entire valley. It’s not the best look for Paradise, but what can you do? It turns out that all those masks we were thinking of putting into storage are just the thing if you have to spend any amount of time outside.

Now if you are a cat, there are several conditions you hate in terms of weather. Rain is one, bitter cold is another, and wind is a third. Our two felines are in quite a pout because they can see a very pleasant day waiting for them when they look out any window, but when they stick their heads through the pet door they are met with all that fresh air moving at an undesirable velocity. They then turn back with a disgusted meow and look at me as if to say “Are you in charge or what?” I don’t know how it all gets to be my fault, but there you are.

I understand, though. It’s bad enough when you are human and your face is more than five feet off the ground, but think how it must feel when that distance is less than five inches, and the wind picks up particles and whisks them into your face, repeatedly. I get it.

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As I typed these words the day got even worse, in cat terms. It started to snow heavily, with the strong shoulders of that wind to stand on.

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I mentioned rodents a moment ago, which reminds me of the time … no, don’t leave … you sit yourself down right now and resign yourself to listening. You came here of your own free will and this is a blog written by an octogenarian and EVERYTHING reminds such a person of a story.

We were a foursome on a fly-in trip to a lake in Ontario, staying in a primitive cabin in the back end of nowhere. We knew we were in a bit of trouble when we first entered and every horizontal surface was littered with mouse droppings. This prompted a brisk clean-up involving much scrubbing and liberal use of the disinfectants provided by our hosts.

That first night I was wakened by a mouse who was busily nibbling on my hair. This was at a time in my life when I had more hair than I do these days, and my response was simply to sweep the offender off into the dark and go back to sleep. Today, when scalp hair is way more precious, I would have risen, found a lantern, and hunted the thief down. Extreme prejudice would have been the order of the day.

The next day we had a council of war, searched the property, and were lucky enough to find a half dozen traps. After supper we baited them with peanut butter and set them in various locations about the cabin. When bedtime rolled around we said our goodnights and turned out the lights. Only a very few minutes passed before we heard the all of the traps snap, one after another.

Over our five days in the cabin we caught enough mice to have made the pelts into a fur jacket, if not a full-length coat. We didn’t, though. Who, we asked ourselves, would wear it?

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We finally watched the movie Belfast. Loved it. It’s a feel-good movie that never got treacly, for us. The young lead actor, Jude Hill, is excellent. You can see why W.C. Fields famously didn’t like playing in films with children. They steal the rug right out from under you.

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