Talking in Code

By Linda Porter Carlyle

Joseph Anderson Donetti stared at the ceiling from where he sleepily lay on the living room rug. He gave a contented sigh. Rain drummed against the side of the house, but the woodstove filled the room with comforting warmth. He heard a tiny rustling sound as G.M. turned a page of the book she was reading. “I’m happy!” Joseph said suddenly.

G.M. looked down at him over the top of her book. She smiled. “Me too,” she said.

“I even like the rain.” Joseph sat up. “I don’t mean I want it to rain all the time. But I like the idea that the rain is soaking into the ground and filling up all the wells so people will have plenty of water in the summer. It’s kind of like when you put money in the bank and then get it out when you need it. God is putting all this water in the bank for when people will need it in the summertime.”

“That’s certainly an interesting way to think about it,” G.M. said, sticking a bookmark between the pages to hold her spot.

Joseph and G.M. sat quietly, listening to the rain and the wind.

Thud! Bang!

Joseph grinned and jumped to his feet. “I’ll open the door,” he said.

“There goes our peace and quiet,” G.M. murmured.

Joseph hurried through the kitchen and opened the back door.

Mac slid inside. “Look what my dad gave me,” she said. “You’re going to love it!” She shrugged off her new hot pink rain slicker, careful to protect the book underneath it from water drops. “Look! It’s a book that tells all about codes and especially an unbreakable code that helped us win World War II.”

Joseph took the book as Mac hung up her slicker on a hook by the door. “Wind Talkers” he read from the cover. “What’s a wind talker?”

“It’s a name for the Indians who spoke the code,” Mac answered, wiping her damp hands on her jeans. “They were Navajo Indians.”

“Come in here,” G.M. called. “I want to hear too.”

Mac and Joseph went into the living room, and Mac sank down on the floor in front of the wood stove. “Whew! It’s so horridly wet outside!” she exclaimed.

“You’ll have to hear Joseph’s newest idea about rain,” G.M. commented. “But, first, tell us about the Wind Talkers.”

“Well, you know,” Mac began, “when you fight a war, the commanders have to be able to talk to each other and tell the soldiers when and where to attack the enemy. And they have to use codes so the enemy won’t know their plans. But there are always special enemy soldiers who learn to break codes, and then they can find out the secret plans.”

Joseph’s eyes sparkled. “That sounds like a great job—being a soldier who breaks codes!”

Mac laughed. “I knew you’d think so! Anyway, there was this boy whose parents were missionaries to the Navajo Indians so he grew up on a Navajo reservation. His name was Philip Johnston. And when he was grown up, he got an idea about using the Navajo language to make a code for our army. The Navajo Indians only lived in the United States, so the enemies of the United States wouldn’t have any chance of already understanding their language and breaking the code.

“And it’s a weird-sounding language, I guess.” Mac giggled. “The book says that wherever the Marines landed to fight, they used their radios to receive messages and orders and stuff. And the Japanese—that’s who we were fighting then—could hear what the Marines were saying on their radios, but the words just sounded sort of like a hot water bottle being emptied out.”

G.M. laughed. “That is an interesting way to describe a language! It would have been frustrating for the Japanese, I imagine. And very helpful for the United States,” she added.

It was quiet in the living room for a minute. The wood inside the stove crackled softly. Joseph slowly turned the pages of Mac’s book and studied the pictures. “It says here that the Wind Talkers saved thousands of lives by their service,” he read. “And it says the Navajo language is very complicated. It is an unwritten language, and it has no alphabet. I didn’t know you could have a language like that!” he exclaimed.

“You know,” G.M. said suddenly, “this story about the Wind Talkers reminds me of your lesson for this week. God gave Nebuchadnezzar a dream that was in a kind of code. And he gave Daniel the key to the code so he could explain the dream to the king.”

“Do you think God gave Philip Johnston the idea to use the Navajo language and make a code?” Mac asked.

“I think so,” G.M. answered. “Our country needed an unbreakable code in a time of war. And God provided. In fact, God was preparing Philip Johnston when he was just a little boy learning the Navajo language as he played and grew up with his Navajo friends. God was preparing him then to help his country many years later.”

“Wow!” Mac breathed. She was silent for a moment. “Do you think God is preparing Joseph and me now to do something big and useful someday?” she asked.

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