Navajo Code talker Samuel Sandoval passes away; 3 group left

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“Sam always said, ‘I wanted my Navajo youth to learn, they needed to know what we did and how this code was used and how it contributed to the world.

In this 2013 photo, Navajo code talker Samuel Sandoval talks about his experiences in the military. Sandoval, one of the last remaining Navajo code talkers who transmitted messages in World War II using a code based on his native language, has died at the age of 98. file/sam green/ap

Flagstaff, Ariz. (AP) — Samuel Sandoval, one of the last remaining Navajo code talkers who transmitted messages in World War II using a code based on his native language, has died.

Sandoval died late Friday at a hospital in Shiprock, New Mexico, his wife, Malula, told The Associated Press on Saturday. He was 98 years old.

Hundreds of Navajo were recruited from the vast Navajo nation to serve as code talkers with the US Marine Corps. Only three survive today: Peter MacDonald, John Kinsell Sr., and Thomas H. Bege.

Code Talkers participated in every attack conducted by Marines in the Pacific, sending thousands of messages without error on Japanese military movements, battlefield tactics, and other communications critical to the final outcome of the war. The code, based on the then-unwritten Navajo language, confused Japanese military cryptologists and is credited with helping the US win the war.

Samuel Sandoval was in Okinawa when word from another Navajo code talker that the Japanese had surrendered and relayed the message to higher-ups. Malula Sandoval said he had a close phone call on the island, which brought back painful memories he had kept.

Navajo Men is celebrated annually on August 14. Samuel Sandoval was looking forward to that date and looking at a museum built near the Navajo Nation capital of Window Rock to honor Code Talkers, he said.

“Sam always said, ‘I wanted my Navajo youth to learn, they needed to know what we did and how this code was used and how it contributed to the world,'” she said on Saturday. “That the Navajo language was powerful and to always carry on our legacy.”

Sandoval was born in Nagizi, near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, in northwestern New Mexico. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after attending Methodist school where he was discouraged from speaking Navajo. They helped recruit other Navajo from the school to serve as code talkers, expanding words and an alphabet that formed a core group of 29 Navajo.

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

The roles later became a great source of pride for Sandoval and his late brother Meryl Sandoval, who was also a code talker. Meryl Sandoval’s daughter, Jenny Sandoval, said the two turned out to be gifted orators who always acted as heroes to their fellow Marines, not just themselves.

“We were kids, all growing up and we started hearing about stories,” she said. “We were so proud of him, and there weren’t too many brothers at once.”

Sandoval was curious, always reading the local newspaper, and attending community, veterans, code talkers, and legislative meetings. One of her daughters, Karen John, said she enjoyed traveling and sharing what she learned, which was based on her dine beliefs and Navajo way of life.

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

Samuel Sandoval often told his story, in a book and documentary of the same name – “Naz Bah e Bijei: Heart of a Warrior” – at the Cortez Cultural Center in Cortez, Colorado. Executive director Rebecca Levy said she had a favorite folding chair with vinyl padding and took the Coffee Black.

Levy said Sandoval’s talks attracted dozens of people, some of whom had to turn away because of space limitations.

“It was a great opportunity for those who understood how important the Navajo Code Talkers were on our side to the outcome of the war … to personally thank them,” Levy said.

Malula Sandoval said Sandoval’s health had declined in recent years, including a fall that fractured his hip. He said his last visit was to New Orleans in June where he received the American Spirit Award from the National Museum of World War II. Macdonald, Kinsell and Bege were also honored.

Sandoval and his wife met when he was running a substance abuse counseling clinic, and she was a secretary, she said. They had been married for 33 years. John said Sandoval raised 11 children from previous marriages and blended families.

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

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

Navajo Nation Council President Seth Damon said Sandoval’s life was guided by character, courage, honor and integrity, and his influence will always be remembered.

“May he rest in our most resilient warriors,” Damon said in a statement.

Funeral services are pending.

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