Zonnie Gorman has done more public speaking than the average graduate student. Recently, she responded to a request by the U.S. Department of State to deliver several lectures at universities and first nations communities in Canada.
Gorman is the youngest child of one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers. "My father, Carl Gorman, was president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association. I was dragged to all his events in the '70s and '80s. I love history and it's a story that fascinated and stuck with me," she said.
She is turning that early exposure to an important part of Navajo, United States and military history into a master's thesis that she plans to expand into a doctoral dissertation in the Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences. Professor Margaret Connell-Szasz is her committee chair.
Gorman used to lecture with her father. She provided the synopsis and he provided personal experience narratives. They presented at NASA, the Museum of the American Indian when it was still in New York and at various U.S. Marine Corps events.
"Platoon 382 was the first all-Indian unit in the Marine Corps," Gorman said, adding that the marines usually integrated Native Americans. "All 29 graduated, which is noteworthy since they usually have a 10 percent dropout rate."
It wasn't until after they finished boot camp that they were told of their special assignment. The original 29 code talkers had but six to eight weeks to develop the code. "They established the structure of the code with a little more than 200 words to identify military apparatus – like planes and bombs, ranks of officers, military terms like platoon and regiment, as well as some general vocabulary," she said.
Twenty seven of the original 29 were sent overseas. "The code wasn't tested pre-battle. Once they proved themselves, word got out and more code talkers were recruited and trained. The code was revised two or three times – they added words, but only 12 of the original words were omitted. By 1945, there were 678 terms," she said. And the code was never broken.
Gorman recorded interviews with six of the original code talkers and their recruiter. She is currently transcribing them. "Many of the marines don't talk about their experiences to this day. The Marine Corps swore them to silence and they said nothing, even after the code was declassified in 1968," she said.
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