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Marine Corps Heroes: Private Carl Gorman

By Cpl. Shaltiel Dominguez | Marine Corps Systems Command | November 6, 2014

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This American-Indian Heritage Month, we highlight Pvt. Carl Gorman. Gorman was one of the unsung heroes called the Navajo Code Talkers, who were responsible for decoding and relaying clear and accurate information during some of the most heated battles in the Pacific.

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Pvt. Carl Gorman put the finishing touches on his sketch of a free-spirited Appaloosa horse running across the Arizona plains, while the group talked loudly amongst themselves in the squad bay. The commanding officer responsible for organizing the Navajo Code Talker Program sat on a footlocker beside him.

“Napoleon once said that the secret of war lies in communications,” said the commanding officer. “I ’m not going to lie private Gorman. It’s going to be tough. You’ll have to decode and deliver information as quickly and accurately as possible in the heat of battle. Are you up to the task?”

Gorman sifted through the 17 pages of code on his desk. A single word caught his eye. It was Ne-he-mah, which meant our mother - the codeword for America.

“This whole land was Indian country and we still think it's our land so we fight for it,” said Gorman. “I am very proud to serve my country sir.[1]"

“Outstanding,” said the commanding officer. He squinted at Gorman’s desk in an attempt to make out the foreign words on the sheets.

“Cheh-Cheel… Be… Tah…Ola,” he tried. “Gold oak leaf?”

“Pretty good pronunciation sir,” laughed Gorman.

“How are you able to memorize all of this?” he asked.

“For us, everything is memory, it’s part of our heritage sir. We have no written language,” said Gorman. “Our songs, our prayers, our stories, they’re all handed down from grandfather to father to children – and we listen, we hear, we learn to remember everything.[2]”

The commanding officer took one of the sheets and strained himself in an attempt to pronounce the words.

“You know some Marines out there might think you’re Japanese, especially when you talk into the radio in code,” he said. “And if the Japanese do get you, there’s no telling what they might do.”

Gorman looked at his sketch of the Appaloosa and showed it to him.

“Ne-he-mah sir,” said Gorman.

“Gear up then private,” the commanding officer smiled, satisfied. “We’re going to Guadalcanal.”

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Carl Gorman, lied about his age when he enlisted at 35-years-old. One of the original 29 who helped develop the code, Gorman served in combat in the Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Saipan. After receiving an honorable discharge in 1945, he became a successful artist and teacher. Eventually, he became the director of the Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild as well as the president of the Code Talker Association[3].

The Navajo code talkers were considered to be unsung heroes of World War II.

The Navajo code, with its complex and irregular syntax and lack of an alphabet remained unbroken and was considered so valuable that they were not allowed to talk about it until 1969[4]. They were responsible for transmitting information on tactics, troop movements, orders and other vital battlefield information.

At Iwo Jima, Maj. Howard Connor, a signal officer with the 5th Marine Division, praised the code talkers, saying that “were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.[5]"

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[1] Navajo Who Helped Win War Dies At 90 -- Carl Gorman Was One Of `Code Talkers, The Seattle Times, Jan. 30, 1998

[2] Power of a Navajo: Carl Gorman, the Man and His Life, by Henry and Georgia Greenberg,1996

[3] Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers, p.113, University of Nebraska Press, 1998

[4] Carl Gorman, Code Talker in World War II, Dies at 90, The New York Times, Feb. 1, 1998

[5] Navajo Code Talkers: World War II Fact Sheet, the Navy & Marine Corps WWII Commemorative Committee


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