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Sagamore Institute 5th Anniversary Gala

Celebrating American Ideas

On March 25, 2010, Sagamore Institute hosted the first annual “Celebrating American Ideas” gala, where the first Celebrating American Ideas award was presented to members of the Navajo Code Talkers who transformed their ancient language into an indecipherable military code. Former Secretary of Education and renowned author William J. Bennett gave a rousing keynote address on the American Idea. His address emphasized the essential role of citizens and our responsibility to learn our nation’s history in order to define and defend democracy.

The Navajo Code Talkers

The Celebrating American Ideas Award honors those who take big ideas and move them into bold action. In 2010, the award recognized Phillip Johnston’s timely idea to use the ancient Navajo language as a secure communications code during World War II. This idea came at an important moment in history, when Japanese intelligence experts were breaking every code the U.S. forces devised.  Johnston, a World War I Veteran and son of a missionary, was raised on a Navajo reservation and spoke the native language fluently.  Johnston recognized the remarkable potential of the Navajo language to serve as an indecipherable code – it was an unwritten language of extreme complexity with no alphabet or symbols.

Answering Johnston’s call, a small band of Navajos became U.S. Marines. From their ancient language, these modest sheepherders and farmers devised the most successful code in U.S. military history, using it to transmit secret communications in the Pacific theater from 1942-1945. At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, declared, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”  Their heroic service played a pivotal role in saving countless lives and hastening the end of WWII.

America: The Last Best Hope

In a democracy like the United States, knowledge of history is vital. Yet we face a great threat to our national identity today: most American students nearing voting age know startlingly little about the foundational democratic principles and ideals that comprise the history of this nation. Few others understand this challenge better than our featured speaker, Dr. William J. Bennett. Most recently, Dr. Bennett is known as a renowned author, but his experiences as U.S. Secretary of Education, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and college professor uniquely position him to share insights into the imperative for and response to restoring excellence in history education.

Recognizing that American students today know startlingly little about the innovative and foundational ideas that comprise the history of this nation, Dr. Bennett has published a gripping and memorable three-volume history of the United States entitled America: the Last Best Hope, which appeared on the New York Times bestseller list.

Click here to learn more.

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