Past, present military turn out to honor Code Talkers

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, August 15, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

I t's been 31 years since former U.S. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed Aug. 14 National Navajo Code Talkers Day, a day that recognizes the service each Navajo Code Talker gave to his country during World War II.

Twenty-six years later the Navajo Nation followed suit on Dec. 6, 2006 by signing into law that Aug. 14 be recognized as Navajo Nation Code Talkers Day - a day dedicated to the "Navajo Code Talkers who gave of their special talents and lives for the good of their country and people," the resolution states.

Since the law's passage a celebration has been held every Aug. 14 on the Navajo Nation, allowing people to come and honor the Navajo Code Talkers, and that is what they did yesterday at the Window Rock Veterans Memorial Park.

"The main reason why I joined the Marine Corps is because of the Navajo Code Talkers," said U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jessica Yazzie from Sanders, Ariz. "I'm really proud of that history. They helped us win World War II and I really respect the Navajo Code Talkers."

Hundreds of people gathered at the park to show their support and respect to the 18 Navajo Code Talkers that showed up for the event, each of them sitting at the front of the tent.

Navajo Code Talker Samuel Smith, from the 4th Marine Division, traveled all the way from Grants, N.M. to be a part of yesterday's festivities.

When this reporter approached Smith for a comment, his sister Mary Keedah from Indian Wells, Ariz. and niece Valerie Scott from Holbrook, Ariz. spoke on his behalf as he went back to his seat.

It's great to have a day dedicated to honoring the Navajo Code Talkers, Keedah said, but she does wish it had happened sooner because of their ages.

"He used to be a good talker," Keedah said of her brother, but at his age he doesn't really like being interviewed.

"It's about time they did something like this," Scott said adding that it's great to finally have recognition for the veterans after years of silence. "If it wasn't for them, no telling what language we'd be talking."

Diana Dechilly from Fort Defiance was there in honor of her father who passed away in 1989, U.S. Marine Cpl. Earl Johnny, of the 3rd Marine Division and Navajo Code Talker.

"It's a way to honor him especially since he's not here," Dechilly said. "Let the whole world know that we're proud of the men for what they did."

The biggest honor the Navajo Code Talkers could receive is to actually build the Navajo Code Talker Museum, Dechilly said, because it's important for their story to be shared, and if nothing happens now those stories will be lost and it will be up to their descendants to get it right.

"Their legacy in the Marine Corps is one everyone knows as a Marine, and I'm very proud to be a part of it," said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Lorenzo Garcia.

"I don't think people realize, globally, how really important our language is," said former U.S Marine Corps Cpl. Lawrence Lano of Shiprock, N.M., adding that the Navajo Code Talkers are the reason why Iwo Jima fell.

"Just taking the day to remember the things that they did and the hardships that they suffered to fight for our freedom is a good way to remember them," Garcia added.