Samuel Sandoval, Among the Last Navajo Code Talkers of WWII Days

Samuel Sandoval, one of the last Navajo Code Talkers who transmitted messages during World War II using a code based on their native language, has died.

Sandoval died Friday night at a hospital in Shiprock, NM, his wife, Malula, said. I was 98 years old.

Hundreds of Navajos were recruited from the vast Navajo Nation to serve as Code Talkers with the US Marine Corps during the war. Only three are still alive today: Peter MacDonald, John Kinsel Sr. and Thomas H. Begay.

Code Talkers took part in every Marine-led assault in the Pacific, sending thousands of error-free messages about Japanese troop movements, battlefield tactics, and other communications critical to the end result of the war. war.

The code, based on the then unwritten Navajo language, baffled Japanese military cryptologists and is credited with helping to end the war. About 540 Navajos served as Marines and about 400 of them were trained as Code Talkers.

Sandoval was on the Japanese island of Okinawa when he learned from another Navajo Code Talker that the Japanese had surrendered and relayed the message to superiors.

Navajo men are celebrated annually in August. 14. Sandoval looked forward to the upcoming celebrations and saw a museum being built near the Navajo Nation’s capital, Window Rock, Arizona, to honor the Code Talkers, his wife said.

“Sam always said, ‘I wanted my young Navajo people to learn, they need to know what we did and how this code was used and how it contributed to the world,’ his wife said. “That the Navajo language was powerful and would always carry on our legacy.”

Navajo Code Talker Samuel Sandoval wears medals and a red cap and yellow jacket.

Navajo Code Talker Samuel Sandoval in 2013.

(Sat Green/AP)

Sandoval was born in Nageezi, near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after attending a Methodist school where he was discouraged from speaking Navajo. I helped recruit other Navajos from school to serve as Code Talkers.

Sandoval served on five combat tours and was honorably discharged in 1946. The Code Talkers were under orders not to discuss their roles – not during the war and not until their mission was finally declassified in 1968.

The roles went on to become a huge source of pride for Sandoval and his late brother, Merrill Sandoval, who was also a Code Talker. Both became gifted public speakers who always hailed their fellow Marines still in action as the heroes, not themselves, said Merrill Sandoval’s daughter, Jeannie Sandoval.

“We were kids, we all grew up and we started hearing the stories,” she said. “We were so proud of them.”

Sandoval was curious, always reading local papers, and attending community, veterans, Code Talker, and legislative meetings. He loved to travel and share what he learned, grounded in the Navajo way of life, said one of his daughters, Karen John.

“It was ingrained in me very early on to be part of the community,” she said. “He was really involved in a lot of things, some of which I couldn’t understand as a kid.”

Sandoval often told his story, chronicled in a book and documentary of the same name – “Naz Bah Ei Bijei: Heart of a Warrior” – at the Cortez Cultural Center in Cortez, Colorado. The Sandoval talks drew dozens of people, some of whom had to be turned away due to lack of space, said Rebecca Levy, the center’s executive director.

“It was a great opportunity for people who understood how important the Navajo Code Talkers were to the outcome of the war to thank him in person,” Levy said.

Sandoval’s health had declined in recent years, including a fall in which he fractured his hip, Malula Sandoval said. His last trip was to New Orleans in June where he received the American Spirit Award from the National World War II Museum, she said. MacDonald, Kinsel and Begay were also honored.

Sandoval and his wife met when he ran an addiction counseling clinic, and she was a secretary, she said. They have been married for 33 years. Sandoval raised 11 children from previous marriages and blended families, John said.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez said Sandoval will be remembered as a loving and courageous person who defended his homeland using his sacred language.

“We are saddened by his passing, but his legacy will always live on in our hearts and minds,” Nez said in a statement.