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Display shines light on Native American involvement in WWII

Wednesday - 11/28/2012, 7:27am  ET

Kathy Stewart, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - November is National Native American Heritage month and a local museum is shining light on an important group of Native Americans.

In 1942, a group of Navajos joined the Marine Corps and helped change the outcome of World War II.

These famed Marine Corps volunteers were communications specialists during the war in the Pacific and known as "Navajo Code Talkers."

"What they did was help develop a code, the Navajo Code, that the Marines used to transmit messages back and forth," says Gretchen Winterer, assistant curator of the General Collection at the National Marine Corps Museum.

She says the Japanese were never able to break the code even though they tried intercepting these critical messages.

The code talkers helped the U.S. win in the Pacific theater.

The Marine Corps Museum has on display a Congressional Gold Medal awarded to one of the original 29 code talkers, James Dixon. It's on loan from his son, Wade Dixon.

"He wanted to tell his father's story, not just his father's story but the story of the Navajo Code Talkers as a whole," says Winterer.

The museum wants more people to know the medal is now on display, and will be for at least five years because it's on a semi-permanent loan.

Winterer says the 1940s were a turbulent time for Native Americans and African Americans.

"These men joined the Marine Corps to help win World War II, when they weren't even being treated fairly at home."

More information is available here.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)