Willie was only 18 years old when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He served from 1943 to 1946 but didn't discuss his war efforts because the military told him and other Code Talkers to keep it a secret. “Like many of our Code Talkers, Willie enlisted into the military at a young age and went on to courageously defend our freedom and liberty as the United States of America,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a press release on Tuesday. The Code Talkers project was eventually declassified in 1968 though it took Willie some time for him to go public with his service, according to his daughter, Annabelle Smallcanyon. “He kept to himself but after going to his first meeting with the Navajo Code Talkers, he was able to open up. I was then able to talk with him about it,” Smallcanyon said. “Later on as people would come up to shake his hand, he would stand tall and feel proud about his service as a Code Talker.” The Code Talkers landed in the news last week after a few of them were invited to the White House as a way to close out Native American Heritage Month. But tribal leaders, tribal citizens and key lawmakers, Republican and Democrat alike, said their contributions to the nation were overshadowed by President Donald Trump, who chose the moment to revive his "Pocahontas" slur against a political rival.
"Our Navajo Code Talkers fought for courage and honor and that same respect should’ve been given to them today. Instead, today will be remembered for entirely different reasons,” Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez told Indianz.Com after the November 27 ceremony. Of the 29 original Code Talkers, who received Congressional Gold Medals for being the first to develop and transmit the unbreakable code, all have passed on. Chester Nez, who died in June 2014, was the last of that group. More than 300 Navajo citizens followed in their footsteps while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. Their ranks are slowly dwindling -- all are in their 90s, with Fleming Begaye, Sr., being the oldest at 97. Begaye, who served as the honorary co-chair of Trump's Native American Coalition during the 2016 presidential campaign, was among those who attended last week's event at the White House. "In every battle," as Peter MacDonald, himself a Code Talker and four-time leader of the Navajo Nation, noted last week, "Code Talkers were used." The family of George B. Willie will accept donations during a celebration of life event the Presbyterian Church in Leupp, Arizona, at 6pm on Friday, December 8. The funeral is expected to take place on Monday, December 11. Willie will be laid to rest at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Park at Camp Navajo in Bellemont.