by Peter Mertz
DENVER, the United States, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. military and the Navajo Nation staged events on Monday to honor members of the Indian tribe who had served as secret messengers for the U.S. military using their native language during World War II (WWII).
The Navajo Code Talkers, better known as Windtalkers following a namesake war epic starring Nicolas Cage, took part in every U.S. Marine Corps assault in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945 and transmitted messages by telephone and radio in their native language -- a code the Japanese never broke.
The Navajo Nation Council honored the Talkers in a parade and military honors, marking the 75th anniversary of the Navajo Code Talkers Association.
The all-day event in Window Rock, Arizona featured the U.S. Marine Corps firing a 21-gun salute.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye proudly honored the warriors who "used the tribe's language to outsmart the Japanese in World War II."
"History will forever marvel at the Navajos who developed an unbreakable code that contributed significantly to Allied victories at Iwo Jima and across the Pacific," said U.S. Senator John McCain from Arizona.
"All Americans should show gratitude to Native Americans -- they were critical toward defeating the Japanese," retired history professor of Colorado University John Yee told Xinhua Monday.
Yee said that during the battle of Iwo Jima, 800 messages were sent back-and-forth between "Navajo code talkers" -- communication that enabled America to win the critical Pacific Theater battle.
Iwo Jima was a heavily fortified island filled with caves, tunnels, and underground installations where 23,000 Japanese troops held off a full-scale amphibious American invasion for 45 days in 1945.
It is considered one of the most hard-fought battles in American history.
The last of the original 29 Navajo who developed the code, Chester Nez, died on June 4, 2014.
"There are few of us left," said Yee, 96, a WWII veteran from China's southwest city of Kunming, who fought as a Flying Tiger in WWII.
Yee recalled the tragic story of Ira Hayes, a fierce fighter and stalwart Marine -- a flag-raiser immortalized in a huge monument in Washington DC of six Marines putting an American flag on a mountain in Iowa Jima.
Hayes was a Pima Native American from Arizona and fought in the Bougainville and Iwo Jima campaigns in the Pacific Theater, but was never comfortable with his fame and eventually died of exposure to cold and alcohol.
"So tragic -- a real American hero who was too damaged from the war," Yee said.
Loni Kepaa, 52, a Native American from the Ogallala Sioux reservation in South Dakota, also took part in Monday's events honoring Navajo Code Talkers.
Her grandfather, Leo Ross, also a Sioux Indian from the Lakota tribe, was awarded a Purple Heart -- the highest military honor -- after surviving a Japanese attack on a battleship in the Pacific.
"Native American Indians have been fighting for the United States longer than most people think," Kepaa told Xinhua.
"It's such an irony that our people have fought and died for our country that massacred them when the Europeans settled America," she said, referring to a series of brutal attacks on the Native American population during the 19th century by the U.S. government.
"It's quite remarkable if you consider history, and shows the resilience of my people -- that some of our warriors helped the crazy American-Europeans fight the Japanese," Kepaa said.