A legacy revealed

Descendants of the 30th man gather at his grave

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

WINDOW ROCK, Dec. 19, 2013

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(Courtesy photo)

This 1942 photo shows the Original 29 Navajo Code Talkers. However, Zonnie Gorman has likely solved a mystery that has eluded professional historians for seven decades. She has discovered the name of the 30th man, who was recruited as a Navajo Code Talker.

Lavaye Holyan-Begay always knew her grandfather was connected to the Code Talkers.

"I don't know why; somehow I always felt that," she said. "When there was a celebration for the Code Talkers, I would think, ‘If my grandfather was still alive, maybe he would be at that.'"

But it didn't make sense.

"I knew the Code Talkers were Marines, and my grandfather was in the Army," she said. "My mom always said he died in Belgium, and the Code Talkers were in the South Pacific."

Her hunch and the facts came together Dec. 6, when Begay's husband called her after reading the previous day's Navajo Times.

"He said, ‘I think there's an article about your grandfather on the front page of the Navajo Times,'" Begay recalled. "I bought a paper on my way to work. Chills were running up and down my spine all day."

It turned out Begay's grandfather, George Clinton, was the mysterious "30th man" recruited by the U.S. Marines to develop the Navajo Code in 1942 — the one who never showed up for the bus ride to Camp Pendleton and whose name wasn't known until this past summer, when historian Zonnie Gorman stumbled upon a roster for the trip with Clinton's name crossed out.

As the eldest living grandchild, it fell to Begay to lay the wreath on Clinton's grave during a brief ceremony Saturday at the Santa Fe National Cemetery sponsored by Wreaths Across America, a charity that lays wreaths on veterans' graves during the holidays every year to make sure they are not forgotten.

Begay was one of 35 family members of Clinton who turned out for the ceremony. About 200 people, including U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) gathered at Clinton's grave to give him some of the recognition he has been denied all these decades.

It was the first time his family had seen his grave.

"All these years," marveled Begay, who lives in Fort Wingate, N.M., "he was right over the hill."

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