Peter MacDonald — influenced by a “beautiful blue” Marine Corps. uniform and with the aid of his cousin — enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. at the age of 15 in 1944.
His cousin, Tom, and he traveled to Farmington, New Mexico, where MacDonald met with a Marine Corps. recruiter. MacDonald told the recruiter that he was seventeen years old, didn’t have a birth certificate and was born in the boondocks following the sheep.
“Well somebody has to vouch for you to prove that you’re seventeen,” the recruiter told MacDonald.
MacDonald introduced the recruiter to his cousin, telling him he’s a Marine. His cousin signed the paperwork needed for MacDonald to become a Marine.
Shortly after, MacDonald was recruited by military personal along with 28 additional Navajo Marines to take part in Navajo communication school, a secret operation formed to create a new type of code using their native language.
Considered the “unbreakable code” today, Navajo Code remains the only military code, in modern history, never broken by an enemy. It was also the fastest form of communicating messages through telephones and radios during that time.
MacDonald and his companions created 260 code words, which were used as “weapons” and transmitted across every major battle in the pacific theater. This led the U.S. to many naval victories and largely helped draw the conclusion to the second World War.
Featured in TIME magazine as one of 200 “Rising Leaders of America” in 1974, MacDonald, at age 90, continues to remain an activist among Native Americans. He serves as the current President of the Navajo Code Talkers Association, raising funds to build the National Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Veteran Center to honor the legacy of those heroes of World War II.
As part of Native American Heritage Month, WSU’s Diversity and Inclusive Programs hosted MacDonald during the 14th annual Native American Symposium, the theme of the year being Coded Stories through a Forbidden Language.
Andrea Hernández, Diversity & Inclusive Programs coordinator, said they had been working extensively to have MacDonald speak. She thanked attendees for participating in the celebration.
“I hope that Weber State is a place where you feel at home and hopefully always feel welcome here,” Hernández said.
MacDonald is “very happy” to see so many Native Americans going to school at Weber State. Being the 14th Native American Symposium, he recalled the number 14 being a special number.
“I want to congratulate all of you Native Americans who are here today, and I understand this is your 14th annual symposium of Native Americans,” MacDonald said. “Fourteen is a special number. August 14 was the official day that World War II ended and also a special day for Navajo Code Talkers. In 1982, the president of the United States and congress declared that day as Navajo Code Talker’s Day. So August 14 has a special meaning for so many of us.”
MacDonald wasn’t fully be recognized for his efforts in the war until 23 years after the war had ended.
When he was honorably discharged with a rank of Corporal, he was told by his command that he couldn’t speak about Navajo Code until it was later declassified in 1968. Then, he said, “I couldn’t stop talking about it.”
MacDonald was the chairman of the Navajo Nation from 1971 to 1983 and 1987 to 1991 and was re-elected to the Office of the Chairmen four times, which remains unprecedented in Navajo history.
He continues to give speeches at schools, clubs, political organizations, government agencies and businesses to talk about his experience contributing to the multi-cultural development among military personal and across the U.S.
Weber State President, Brad Mortensen, said the university holds tight to the ideal of personal inclusion. Having MacDonald share his story and the impact that Navajo marines had on the war is what Mortensen believes WSU events strive to spotlight.
“We have the opportunity to learn the value of different cultures, languages and the interaction that brings together each of us and how important that perspective can be as we go about our own efforts to work together for a common good and a common cause to really find inclusion and acceptance among each other’s lives,” Mortensen said.
MacDonald is one of five remaining Navajo Code Talkers alive today. MacDonald reflected on his experience as a marine and a Navajo Code Talker and is grateful that he was able to serve with so many “great people.”
“Someone said it’s not the win that makes our flag fly,” MacDonald said. “It’s the last breath of all so many soldiers who have died defending the flag. We must remember that.”