The world’s best exhibit on the Navajo Code Talkers is located in a Burger King in Kayenta, Arizona.
In World War II, the U.S. military had a problem. Every code they developed was broken by Japanese cryptographers. Enter: the Navajo Code Talkers. Navajo is a unique tonal language, mutually unintelligible with even its closest linguistic relatives. The first Navajo Language Dictionary was not produced until 1943, making Navajo a particularly good language for speaking in code. (By one estimate at the time, fewer than 30 non-Navajos could speak the language.) The Marines recruited several young men (29 in the first class), pulling them out of reservation boarding school and working with them to build the eventual code.
Navajo code talkers were recognized as skilled and accurate. Six Navajo code talkers worked around the clock during the Battle of Iwo Jima, sending and receiving more than 800 messages flawlessly. Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, later said, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” The Navajo Code was never broken, and technically remained a state secret until the Vietnam War-era.
In 1986, the small reservation town of Kayenta, Arizona got its first fast-food restaurant. It was owned and operated by the son of a Navajo Code Talker, Richard Mike. Mike decided to put the war memorabilia he had collected from his father on display in his new restaurant.
“We have here in Kayenta more Code Talker memorabilia than the Pentagon does,” Mike said in an interview with the Arizona Republic. Mike’s father’s name? King Mike. Of course.
Know Before You Go
Located on the north side of 160-US less than half a mile west of Interstate 163. Ample free parking in the Burger King lot directly between the Kayenta Hampton Inn and Taco Bell. The free Code Talkers display can be viewed inside the Kayenta Burger King any time during operating hours 6 am-10 pm.