World War II veteran and member of the famed Navajo Code Talkers Tom Jones passed away at age 89 at a medical center in northwestern New Mexico last week. Jones, who worked in the Navajo Mines after his military service, was suffering from pneumonia and admitted to the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, NM.
Jones enlisted in November 1943 and was honorably discharged in December 1945 after training in California with other members of the Navajo tribe and serving in the Pacific theater. Throughout World War II, the Code Talkers confounded Japanese code-breakers primarily by sending out military communications in their native tongue. The Navajo language was spoken and understood by very few in the United States outside of the Four Corners region of Arizona and New Mexico, let alone anyone working on behalf of the Axis powers.
The Navajo Code Talker program was credited with maintaining secure lines of communication during the most pivotal battles of the Pacific theater. After the war, an estimated 200 Navajo Marines were sworn to secrecy over the Code Talker program to maintain secrecy- likely because the military thought such a program could see continued use during the Cold War with the Soviets. However, in the early 1970s the Code Talker program was eventually declassified and many of the Navajo veterans belatedly received recognition in the 1990s and 2000s for their efforts and unique contribution to the war effort.
The Navajo nation ordered flags flown at half mast in honor of Jones and his family released the following statement.
"Our father was a private, humble, simple, caring and giving father, grandfather, brother, friend and comrade. His heart was caring, his mind was strict, his life was blessed and his soul was graceful"
Although the Navajo tribe donated a house to Jones and other Code Talkers some 40 years ago, the home fell into disrepair and parts of it became nearly inaccessible when Jones was confined to a wheelchair.
More recently, Jones and other Code Talkers were featured in a March 2014 Los Angeles Times article that highlighted the difficult living conditions for some Navajo veterans who still live on the reservation.