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Entries in World War II Veteran (2)


The Navajo Code Talkers

By Jim and Donna Poulton


They were at Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa .. They were in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific theatre from 1942 to 1945. The idea to use them came from Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos and one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language. Johnston, a World War I veteran, knew of the dilemma the U.S. forces were facing: During the early months of World War II, Japanese intelligence experts broke every code the U.S. had devised. With access to the codes, and with plenty of fluent English speakers, the Japanese were able to use the U.S. communications to their own advantage – sabotaging messages, setting up ambushes, issuing false commands.

Photograph of Navajo Indian Code Talkers Henry Bake and George Kirk. Credit: Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS-S)

Credit: US Navy Museum Web site. Photo #: USMC 127-MN 89670

In response, the U.S. devised more and more complex codes – to the point of absurdity. At Guadalcanal, military leaders complained that they now required more than two hours to de-code a single message. Something had to be done.

Private First Class George H. Kirk, USMC and Private First Class John V. Goodluck, USMC. Credit: Photo #: USMC 127-MN 94236

Philip Johnston believed that the Navajo language answered the military requirement for an undecipherable code because it is extremely complex, tonal (in that high and low tones of the same phoneme can mean different things), and has no alphabet or symbols. Needless to say, speaking and understanding Navajo requires extensive exposure and training. In 1942, it was estimated that only 30 non-Navajos in the world spoke Navajo – none Japanese.

Private First Class Alec E. Nez, USMC, and Private First Class William D. Yazzie, USMC. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps. Photo #: NH 107263

Johnston convinced the U.S. forces to give the Navajos a try by demonstrating that they could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds, increasing the military’s efficiency by a factor of 360,000 – or something of the sort. Within a matter of weeks, 200 Navajos were recruited.

Credit: U.S. Navy Museum Website

Private First Class Hosteen Kelwood, USMC, Private First Floyd Saupitty, USMC and Private First Class Alex Williams, USMC. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps Photo #: USMC 129851

The rest, as they say, is history. The Navajo code talkers accrued praise throughout the war for their skill, speed and accuracy. At Iwo Jima, six code talkers working around the clock sent and received over 800 messages in the first two days of battle. The 5th Marine Division signal officer said of their dedication: ‘Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.’

Airman Jose Porcayo, assigned to USS Constitution shares a laugh with veterans who served in the U.S. Marine Corps as Navajo Code Talkers during World War II at a book signing during Albuquerque Navy Week. Navy Weeks are designed to show Americans the investment they have made in their Navy and increase awareness in cities that do not have a significant Navy presence, 4 October 2009. Photographed by MC1 Eric Brown, USN. Credit: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photo #: NH 107218-KN (Color) Navajo Code Talkers

The Japanese never cracked the Navajo code.


In 2001, President George Bush spoke at a ceremony honoring 21 surviving Navajo code talkers: ‘Today, America honors 21 Native Americans who, in a desperate hour, gave their country a service only they could give. In war, using their native language, they relayed secret messages that turned the course of battle. At home, they carried for decades the secret of their own heroism. Today, we give these exceptional Marines the recognition they earned so long ago.’

President George W. Bush presents Congressional Gold Medals to four of the five remaining former Navajo Code Talkers who served during World War II in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, 26 July 2001. Credit: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photo #: NH 107229-KN (Color). Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Navajo Code Talker Monument, Window Rock, Arizona. Photo by Tom Grier/Winona, Minnesota:

Sources for more information about the Navajo Code Talkers:

Official site of the Navajo Code Talkers

Naval History and Heritage Command


Larger Than Life – Cyclone Davis

Guest Blog by Tiffany Mull, for her Grandfather on Father’s Day

Maj. Davis, Commander of the 35th Squadron by his P-40N, Tsili, Tsili, New Guinea, 1943. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

Emmett Smith “Cyclone” Davis was a Colonel from World War II, and he got the nickname “Cyclone” for a reason.  This cocky fighter pilot was renowned for his “dog fighting” skills.  He was one of a dozen pilots that made it into the air the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, and he saw the war through to its end, serving as the escort for the Japanese envoy to set the terms of surrender.  

Pearl Harbor.  Credit: Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

He stopped an F-100 with his teeth and lived to tell about it.  In a night landing, his nose-gear collapsed.  He opened his canopy fearing the plane would explode and wound up hitting the barrier at the end of the runway. The barrier slid up and whacked him across the jaw.  

Major Emmett S. Davis being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Gen. George C. Kenney, 1943. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

Born in Roosevelt Utah, to a cowboy daddy and a pioneer mom who lived in a tent, Emmett was small in stature, but tough.  Whenever his family moved to a new place, other kids would pick on him and his brothers because they were small and poor.  Without fail Emmett would lick those bigger kids and rule the roost.  He began work early, selling apples on the roadside.  He placed value on hard work and always helped support his family (he was still sending his mother monthly checks when she died at one hundred and three).  He had to work for everything he got, and this scabrous upbringing helped make him larger than life.

Lt. Col. Davis, second from the left, and three of his brothers, visiting their four-star mother. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

This poor boy from Northern Utah saw the world as a respected Commander, and then Colonel, in the air force, and he brought his rough-and-tumble Western attitude into the sky with him.  Emmett earned the nickname “Cyclone” in the war, and he goes by it to this day. 


Col. E.S. “Cyclone” Davis. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

As a Colonel in the Air Force he survived high flying rodeos of fire and death and his nickname is credited to a tactic he used to shoot down enemy aircraft.  When he got in a “dog fight,” he’d let the enemy follow him around in a circle.  Cyclone would spiral his plane upwards, with the enemy in pursuit.  At just the right moment, Cyclone would pull the throttle back and rocket his plane straight upwards in a vertical line.  The enemy was confused.  After going straight up for a little bit, Cyclone would stall the plane and let himself freefall until he was sufficiently below the enemy.  Then he would wrench the plane back in gear, and shoot down the bogie.  This is how he came to be known as “The Cyclone.”  The group he commanded was known as “Cyclone’s Flying Circus” because of the wild and successful aerial tactics they employed.

Cyclone’s Flying Circus. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

Cyclone lived life to the brim – and was never afraid to see it spill over once in a while.  He married his sweetheart after the war on January 23rd 1946, and together they travelled the world. 

Cyclone with his sweetheart Marge. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

Cyclone, Marge, Tucker and Pam. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

In the fifties he and Grandma would hold sock hops and invite ten or fifteen couples from the base to their house to dance shoeless until the sun came up. He served in the military, usually as a commander, for twenty-four years.

Cyclone with Marge, Pam, Tucker and Kim, the youngest. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

After retiring, Cyclone worked for Hughes Aircraft for another twenty years. After his second retirement, he had more time to enjoy golf, and even took up painting.  In later years he found out he had macular degeneration and would slowly go blind. Rather than give up or enter into depression, he went to the Veteran’s Blind School in Palo Alto where he learned to use a talking computer, and how to perform safe woodworking.  To this day he continues woodworking, building shelves, desks, or birdhouses.  He goes by feel, memory, and the little peripheral vision he has left.  He’s never too busy to help with a scout project or a pinewood derby car.

There was a period during the war when foot soldiers were getting accosted and killed by Japanese infantry men who laid in wait in caves on the island of Biak.  As a kid Grandpa was a dead-eye pitcher in baseball.  He decided to take matters into his own hands.   Cyclone got in his plane with a pile of grenades and flew by the caves, chucking grenades into them out of the cockpit.  He was a hero, in actuality, but also in the eyes of his children and grandchildren. 

Cyclone with grandchildren: Brandon, Bryson and Summer Mull. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

Emmett is still a cyclone of a man.  At five foot eight, he is larger than life.  He turned ninety-two in December, 2010.  Nowadays he’s pretty tired, and pretty fragile.  He has to sleep with an oxygen tank.  He has a pacemaker.  He can’t go for long walks as he used to just a decade ago, but he still walks laps about the house.  His mind is as sharp as ever, his wit sharper than the radial arm saw he loves so much, and he hasn’t lost his thirst for adventure.  Just two years ago he took a neighbor up on an offer to ride around on the back of his motorcycle.