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Code Talker legacy deployed with 24th MEU (SOC)

13 Sep 2002 | Cpl. Jeff Sisto 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

When the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) left Camp Lejeune, N.C. for their deployment to the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas, the unit brought with it a living piece of Marine Corps history. Cpl. Arceno Jake is the grandson of David Jordan, a World War II veteran and Navajo Code Talker.

As a tank mechanic with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines, Jake upholds a family tradition of Marine Corps service and provides a unique link to Marine Corps history.

It was on his Navajo reservation in Sweet Water, Arizona, that Jake first heard stories about the Marine Corps.
In addition to his grandfather and many other members of the reservation, Jake's father and two uncles served as Marines in Vietnam and the Gulf War, respectively.

"I grew up hearing all of the good stories," said Jake, now 21, "Mostly about the funny things that happened to them, but also the amazing things."

Perhaps the most amazing was his grandfather's experiences as a code talker.

As a private first class, David Jordan served as a radio operator on ships and on the front lines. There he deciphered codes used from his native language to help defeat the Japanese in the Pacific. Jordan fought in the battles on Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, coordinating air attacks and ground movements through Navajo based codes.

After Navajo code talking became unclassified and books on the subject were published, Jordan showed his grandson how different Navajo words had a corresponding military meaning.

"He broke it down for me, showing me little things like how a potato meant a hand grenade, fish were boats, and turtles were tanks," said Jake.
"Sometimes they used the first letter of each Navajo code word to spell something out," said Jake, "That is how my grandfather said he found out that the Marines had taken Mt. Surbachi - they spelled out SURBACHI in Navajo Code."

Although Jake maintains that his grandfather does not share much of his combat experiences, he does tell many stories that convey the importance and secrecy of his job at the time.

"One time when his bodyguard was making a head call, my grandfather began speaking in Navajo on the radio," said Jake. "A squad of Marines on patrol overheard him but couldn't understand the language, and didn't know about the code talkers so they rushed in and shot up his radio. Luckily he jumped out of the way and his bodyguard returned before anything happened to him."

In another instance, a Navajo friend of Jordan's, who was not a code talker, was captured by the Japanese and forced to translate the unidentifiable language they were picking up. However, even his friend could not make out the coded messages.

"At first he thought the code talkers were drunk," said Jake. "Gibberish combinations of words like scrambled eggs and fried potatoes made it sound like they were talking about breakfast. But soon he realized there was a hidden code within the Navajo language that he didn't understand."

As a Marine, Jake is now able to share his own experiences in family stories about the Marine Corps and enjoys comparing things with his grandfather.

"We talk about the differences between the Marine Corps then and now, and because I work on tanks, he says I am going in with a lot more firepower than he ever did," said Jake.

One thing that has not changed is the support the Navajo community gives to its members, especially those who serve in the military. Before leaving for his deployment, Jake participated in a traditional Navajo religious ceremony that acts as a blessing for those entering harm's way.

"It is a blessing of protection to ward off evil spirits," said Jake. "It is the same ceremony that the code talkers performed before going into combat."

Jake feels confident in his 24th MEU's level of readiness and looks forward to applying his training on this deployment.

"I hope we are able to fire some tank rounds," said Jake. "And if something breaks, I know I can fix it with a coke bottle and duct tape if I have to."

With a reenlistment package pending, Jake hopes to further his Marine Corps experiences and them share with his family. Undeniably, Jake has already connected more deeply with his roots and helped continue a long-standing tradition of Navajo service to this country. It is a tradition that the 24th MEU (SOC) is proud to have with it wherever it may sail.