The Navajo Nation lost one of its heroes with the passing of Roy O. Hawthorne, Sr., on April 21. Hawthorne, who was 92 at the time of his death, was one of the hundreds of tribal citizens who used the Navajo language to transmit codes during World War II. Military experts credit the system, which was never broken, with helping the U.S. and its allies achieve victory during a key portion of the international conflict. For Hawthorne, enlisting with the U.S. Marine Corps meant leaving the reservation for the first time. He was only 17 when he began training at Camp Pendleton in California. He was eventually sent to battle in the Pacific theater. "It became very obvious what the mission was," Hawthorne said in a video taped in December 2003 for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. "We were speaking Navajo and the Navajo that we were speaking wasn't conversational Navajo but it was from the code that had been developed, sending tactical messages and receiving tactical messages," Hawthorne continued. At nearly 90 minutes, the video is lengthy but worth a viewing to gain insights into a group of veterans whose ranks are slowly thinning. Of the original 29 Code Talkers who were the first to develop and use the system, all have passed on. Of the 300 to 400 Navajos like Hawthorne who followed in their footsteps, a large number have passed.
Roy Hawthorne, Sr. Navajo Code Talker
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