They soon found out. In July 1942, the Japanese invaded Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, giving them an air base even closer to Australia. Alarmed, U.S. military officials organized a hurried invasion of the island. On August 7, the first wave of Marines stormed the beach in what would be a six-month ordeal. In November, the code talkers joined them.
The fighting was brutal. Marines trudged through thick jungle, facing death at every step. Because of the jungle tree line, U.S. planes couldn’t see where to bomb Japanese positions or drop supplies. The code talkers and their radios were often the only lifeline the Marines had to medicine, ammunition, food, and each other.
Chester Nez, one of the original 29 code talkers, later wrote about working nonstop for 24 hours at a time, crammed into a foxhole. He described his first radio transmission, calling in an attack on a Japanese machine gun that had his patrol pinned down.
“A runner approached, handing me a message written in English. [I transmitted the message to another code talker:] ‘Enemy machine gun nest on your right flank. Destroy.’ Suddenly, just after my message was received, the Japanese gun exploded, destroyed by U.S. artillery.”
Working so quickly with a code the enemy couldn’t crack made the Navajos a valuable new weapon. By the time the Japanese finally withdrew from Guadalcanal in February 1943, the code talkers had proved themselves.