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Johnston, Philiplocked

(14 September 1892–11 September 1978)
  • Dennis Wepman


Johnston, Philip (14 September 1892–11 September 1978), proponent of use of the Navajo code-talker system in World War II, was born in Topeka, Kansas, the son of William Riley Johnston, a Presbyterian missionary, and Margaret Wray. His family moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, to work on a Navajo reservation in 1896. Playing with Navajo children, he quickly learned the language and customs of the tribe, although his fluency in the language has been called in question by one scholar, who wrote, “He could carry on conversations and understand simple directions, much like immigrants who learn to speak pidgin English, but he never mastered the complex Navajo tongue” (McClain, p. 24). Philip's father promoted tribal interests and founded a mission near Leupp, Arizona. However limited the nine-year-old Philip's mastery of the language may have been, he was fluent enough to serve as interpreter in a conference between the Navajo leaders and President ...

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