Today We Celebrate History

Aug 14th

Happy Thursday to everyone!  I am racing around getting ready to leave the house, heading on a little day trip to perform a wedding ceremony at a fairly remote lodge along the coast in the rain forest.  Considering how wet it’s been over the last 24 hours, and knowing that they are in the rain forest, it should be interesting! I hope they have some cover . . . just in case!  Because I am in a hurry, I copied and pasted the information on Victory Over Japan Day (V-J Day) from my last years post, but was so fascinated by my first research into the Navajo Code Talkers that I sat here far too long reading about them. Amazing story, and an incredible day of history for everyone today.

V-J Day – There is some confusion as to what exact day that WWII ended.  There are actually three logical choices, and as far as I am concerned, they should all be honored.  What an amazingly wonderful day to celebrate – the end of a horrible war!  Do you know why it’s called V-J Day?  It stands for “Victory In Japan Day” or “Victory Over Japan Day”.  The confusion over the exact date is was caused in part by President Harry S. Truman.  On August 14, 1945 the Japanese government cabled their surrender to the U.S.  This is the day of most modern observances.  On August 15, 1945, news of the surrender was announced to the world.  This started spontaneous celebrations over the final ending of World War II.  On September 2, 1945, a formal surrender ceremony was held in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.  At the time, President Truman declared September 2 to be VJ Day.  No matter what day you view as the actual day though, WWII was FINALLY over!

And now a little history:  The war in the Pacific was fought hard and very bloody.  The tide had definitely turned and the U.S. military was fighting island by island toward Japan.  Resistance was fierce and casualties were very high for both sides.  The U.S. had developed the atomic bomb.  The U.S. government, anxious to end the war and stop the loss of American lives, decided to take drastic measures and on August 6, 1945 the military dropped an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, Japan, to force Japan into an immediate and unconditional surrender.  They didn’t immediately surrender though.  They took some time to debate what to do, so the U.S. dropped a 2nd bomb on August 9, 1945, over the city of Nagasaki, Japan.  On August 14, 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito cabled the U.S. their surrender, agreeing to the terms of the Potsdam Declaration.  That surrender was made official and formally documented aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

As a side note, the battleship USS Missouri was chosen for the formal surrender ceremony, because she was named for President Truman’s home state.  The USS Missouri is an incredible ship.  She used to be docked at the Bremerton, WA Shipyard, and tourists were allowed to board her and take tours.  When I was very young my parents took us on a tour and I still, even after all of these years, cannot describe the feeling of being so small.  At nine years old I felt a sense honor at the chance to walk those decks and be in that incredible place.  They moved the USS Missouri to Hawaii some years ago, and the space she filled will always seem empty when we drive by.  It’s sad to see her gone.


National Navajo Code Talkers Day – This is an amazing story, and one that we should never forget, always be proud of, and share with future generations.  So much of what we hear about the history of the Native Americans in this country is full of tragedy, which makes this huge chunk of history so fantastic to hear.  During WWII communications were obviously NOT what they are today, and from battalion to battalion, ship to ship, everyone needed to stay in contact so they knew when to attack, or when to fall back.  If the enemy were to hear these conversations the element of surprise would be lost, but worse they could reposition and attack us instead.  Codes, or encryptions, were essential for protecting these conversation, but unfortunately these codes were frequently broken.  In 1942 a man named Philip Johnston thought of a code that he felt would be unbreakable by the enemy.  It was a code based on the Navajo language.

Philip Johnston was the son of a Protestant missionary, and he spent much of his childhood on the Navajo reservation. Growing up with the Navajo children, he learned their language and their customs.  When he was an adult he became an engineer for the city of Los Angeles, but he also spent a considerable amount of his time giving lectures about the Navajos.  One day he was reading the newspaper when he noticed a story about an armored division in Louisiana that was trying to come up with a way to code military communications using Native American personnel, and this sparked an idea for Johnston.  The very next day he headed to Camp Elliot near San Diego and gave his idea for a code to Lt. Col. James E. Jones, the Area Signal Officer.  At first Lt. Col. Jones was skeptical because previous tries for similar codes had failed because Native Americans didn’t have words in their language for military terms.  There wasn’t a need for Navajos to add a word in their language for “tank” or “machine gun”, just like there wasn’t a reason in English to have different terms for your mother’s brother and your father’s brother – like some languages do – since we call them both “uncle”.  Often times when new inventions are created, other languages just use the same word – for example, in German a radio is called “Radio” and a computer is “Computer”.  Jones was concerned that if they used any Native American languages as codes, the word for “machine gun” would just become the English word “machine gun”, which would make the code easy to break.  Johnston had an idea for that though.  Instead of adding the term “machine gun” to the Navajo language, they would just designate a word or two that were already in the Navajo language for the military term.  For example, the term “machine gun” became “rapid-fire gun”. The word for “battleship” became “whale”, and “fighter plane” became “hummingbird”.  Lt. Col Jones thought it would be a good idea to have a demonstration for Major General Clayton B. Vogel, which was a success and Vogel sent a letter to the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, recommending that they enlist 200 Navajos for this assignment.  The response to this request was to be given permission for a pilot program to start with 30 Navajos.
Recruiters visited the Navajo reservation and selected the first 30 code talkers, though one dropped out, starting the program with 29 instead.  Many of these young Navajo men had never been off of the reservation, making their transition to military life very difficult.  They stuck with it though, working night and day to help create the code and to learn it.  Once it was created, they were tested and re-tested.  There couldn’t be any mistakes with any of the translations.  One mistranslated word could lead to the death of thousands. Whew! The pressure! Once the 29 were trained, two remained behind to become instructors for future code talkers, and the other 27 were sent to Guadalcanal to be the first to use the new code in combat. Because he had not gotten to participate in creating the code because he was a civilian, Johnston volunteered to enlist if he could be a part of the program.  His offer was accepted and he took over the training aspect of the program. The program was successful and the U.S.M.C. authorized unlimited recruiting for the Navajo code talkers program.  The entire Navajo nation consisted of 50,000 people, and by the end of the was 420 Navajo men worked as code talkers.  The initial code was made up of translations for 211 English words most frequently used in military conversations.  Some of the words on the list were terms for officers, airplanes, months, and a large general vocabulary. They also had Navajo equivalents for the English alphabet so that they could spell out names or places.  A cryptographer by the name of Captain Stilwell suggested that the code be expanded because while he was monitoring transmissions he noticed that since so many words had to be spelled, the repetition could possibly give the Japanese a chance to decipher the code.  An additional 200 words and additional equivalents for the 12 most often used letters were added, bringing the code to 411 terms. On the battlefield the code was NEVER written down, it was always spoken. In training they have been repeatedly drilled with all 411 terms.  They had to be able to send and receive the code as fast as possible – there was no time for hesitation.  Trained and fluent in the code, the code talkers were ready for battle. After overcoming a bit of skepticism from some military leaders, the code talkers participated in many battles in the Pacific between 1942 and 1945 – including Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Peleliu and Tarawa.  They didn’t just work in communications, but also as regular soldiers, facing the same horrors of war as other soldiers.  It was interesting to read that all code talks had to have a bodyguard because many times the code talkers were mistaken for Japanese soldiers.  There were so few code talkers that they had to be protected. For three years, wherever the Marines landed, the Japanese got an earful of strange gurgling noises mixed in with other sounds that sounded to them like the call of a Tibetan monk and the sound of a hot water bottle being emptied.  Huddled over their radios in bobbing assault barges, foxholes on the beach, in slit trenches and deep in the jungle, the Navajo Marines transmitted and received messages, orders and vital information.  The Japanese could just grind their teeth because they were unable to break this code.  The Navajo Code Talkers played a large role in the Allied success in the Pacific.  True heroes in every sense.

This Day In History

1945 – Japan surrenders, ending World War II.      

1953 – Get a whiff of this…the Whiffle Ball was patented on this day.

Food Celebration of the Day

National Creamsicle Day  Wow, this one brings back childhood memories.  I haven’t had a creamsicle for YEARS!  This is a delicious treat to enjoy on a hot summer day.  They melt quickly though, so you have to eat them fast!  A lovely combination of vanilla and orange, it just speaks tot he child inside of each of us.  One of my favorite, low fat treats on a hot day is to take fat free frozen vanilla yogurt and pour an orange Zevia soda (Zevia is sugar free, sweetened with non-chemical based erythritol and stevia – delicious, guilt free and it won’t hurt you!) over the top.  It tastes like a healthy creamsicle in a glass!  YUM!  Even though the original Creamsicle was a brand of frozen popsicle it has evolved to touch every market, from cupcakes to cocktails.  Experiment and come up with something wonderful of your own with that delicious flavor profile! It could become your new summer favorite.  As a side note . . . I just had a sweet mental image of an orange and white tabby cat I used to have years ago . . . my daughter had named him Creamsicle.  He was such a sweet little guy.

Well, I must run! I haven’t even started getting ready yet and I need to leave before long.  Have a wonderful Thursday and let’s celebrate the incredible world that learning history opens up for us.  Knowing where we have been can teach us much of where we are going.  God Bless You and I’ll see you tomorrow!


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