The APU community had the privilege of hearing Peter MacDonald, Sr., share his story

On Sept. 27, Munson Chapel was filled with students, staff and people from the greater community of Azusa to listen and commemorate World War II veteran Peter MacDonald Sr., one of the last nine remaining Navajo code talkers.

The 90-year-old veteran shared the background of how the Navajo language came to be used as a top secret code for the United States Military, as well as shared the remarkable story of his time as a Navajo Code talker for the Marines.

Dave Landers, director of Educational Programs and Outreach, and Angela Ingalsbe, the library coordinator to the Dean’s Office, are two of the people responsible for making this event happen.

Landers had the opportunity to meet Lewis Yazze, who was a Navajo code talker during the 1950s. Yazze introduced Landers to MacDonald’s story and then encouraged Landers to invite the veteran to speak for the APU community. Landers was able to get in contact with MacDonald’s daughter, and “we were finally able to get a date for him to come and share his story,” said Landers.

Landers said that this event is important due to the fact that until the code was declassified in 1968, the Navajo Code Talkers did not receive proper recognition for their dedication. As the code was top secret for so many years after the war, the Code Talkers were not permitted to speak about the code or their experience for all of those years.

“That’s why many people don’t know this amazing piece of American history and [don’t know] why we should hear their stories before they are all gone,” Landers said.

After all of Munson Chapel stood to say the pledge of allegiance, led by APU’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), MacDonald began to share the history of the Navajo people and how their language became known to the Marines.

At one point in 1950, the city of Azusa contained at least three dozen Navajos, MacDonald explained. He also became familiar with the Azusa area through the Los Angeles Navajo Club.

In 1942, a time where the U.S. Military was struggling to create codes that were indecipherable by their enemy, Philip Johnston, a World War I veteran who spoke the Navajo language fluently, suggested that the Marines used the Navajo language as their code. MacDonald explained that because the Navajo language was not a written language, the code could not be deciphered by the enemy, and better yet, could not even be deciphered by the Navajo people themselves.

Throughout the first year, around 260 code words were developed.

Once the new code was tested in battle and worked flawlessly, the Marines continued to recruit young Navajos to strengthen the code and performance on site.

MacDonald’s cousin served as a code talker in 1943, and when his cousin returned from war that year, MacDonald saw his fancy U.S. Marine Corps uniform and was inspired to wear it someday.

Peter MacDonald was only 15 years old when he went into training camp for the Marines, and at that time you had to be at least 17 years of age to join. MacDonald lied about his age and had his cousin vouch for him so that he could be able to join the Marines as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, MacDonald’s cousin ended up being killed on site while doing his duty as a code talker.

“War is ugly, war is bad, yet even to this day we send our kids out, they carry rifles, men and women, why?” said MacDonald. “Because we love this country. Because we cherish what this country means to us, like freedom and liberty.”

The Navajo Code Talkers made a remarkable impact on the U.S. Military. This Navajo Code was a game changer for the marines, as it was the only military code in modern history that was never deciphered by the enemy.

“I think that it is important for the community, K-12 and college students, to hear the stories of these veterans and how they overcame adversity and faced great challenges to serve their country,” said Landers. “We don’t have many WWII veterans left, and I think anyone who is able to meet one should count themselves lucky to have had that opportunity.”