Thursday, October 29, 2009

Navajo Tribe Mourns the Passing of WWII Vet & Code Talker

WWII Vet and Code Talker Willard V Oliver passed away earlier this month at the Northern Arizona VA Hospital in Prescott, AZ. He was 88.

For those of you who may not know, Oliver was one of about 400 Navajo servicemen recruited in World War II to broadcast messages in the Navajo language in order to successfully confound Japanese codebreakers monitoring communications. The program wasn't declassified until 1968.

Reflecting on his service, Mr. Oliver had this to say in a 2001 interview:

"I did not realize that until the code talkers were recognized that all the victories back during the war came about because of our Diné language," he said.

"Sometimes I think about it," he said. "Why did the government want to use our language when throughout BIA school we would get our mouth washed out with soap when they caught us speaking Navajo?

"I am proud to be a code talker," he said. "And I know we counted for something great, and that we fought to maintain our freedom and for our sacred land."

After the war, Oliver worked as a carpenter, construction worker, hired on with both the Union Pacific and Santa Fe Railroads and was a policeman and ambulance driver in Fort Defiance, AZ. Willard's brother Lloyd, also a Code Talker, accompanied him to a 2001 ceremony in Washington DC where they and other Code Talkers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush.

On Nov. 21, 2001 Willard Oliver was awarded the Congressional Silver Medal in a ceremony in Window Rock, AZ.

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