Samuel Sandoval, Navajo code speaker, dies; 3 remaining in the group
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Samuel Sandoval, one of the last Navajo Code Talkers who transmitted messages during World War II using a code based on their native language, has died.
Sandoval died Friday night at a hospital in Shiprock, New Mexico, his wife Malula told The Associated Press on Saturday. He was 98 years old.
Hundreds of Navajos were recruited from the vast Navajo Nation to serve as Code Talkers with the US Marine Corps. Only three are still alive today: Peter MacDonald, John Kinsel Sr. and Thomas H. Begay.
Code Talkers took part in every Marine-led assault in the Pacific, sending thousands of error-free messages about Japanese troop movements, battlefield tactics, and other communications critical to the end result of the war. war. The code, based on the then unwritten Navajo language, baffled Japanese military cryptologists and is credited with helping the United States win the war.
Samuel Sandoval was in Okinawa when he learned from another Navajo Code Talker that the Japanese had surrendered and relayed the message to superiors. He had a close call on the island, which brought back painful memories he kept to himself, Malula Sandoval said.
Navajo men are celebrated annually on August 14. Samuel Sandoval looked forward to that date and saw a museum being built near the Navajo Nation’s capital, Window Rock, to honor the Code Talkers, she said.
“Sam always said, ‘I wanted my young Navajos to learn, they need to know what we did and how this code was used and how it contributed to the world,'” she said Saturday. Navajo language was powerful and still to continue to carry our heritage.
Sandoval was born in Nageezi, near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after attending a Methodist school where he was discouraged from speaking Navajo. He helped recruit other Navajos from the school to serve as Code Talkers, developing words and an alphabet created by an original group of 29 Navajos.
Sandoval served on five combat tours and was honorably discharged in 1946. The Code Talkers were under orders not to discuss their roles – not during the war and not until their mission was declassified in 1968.
The roles went on to become a huge source of pride for Sandoval and his late brother, Merrill Sandoval, who was also a Code Talker. Both became gifted public speakers who always hailed their fellow Marines still in action as the heroes, not themselves, said Merrill Sandoval’s daughter, Jeannie Sandoval.
“We were kids, we all grew up and we started hearing the stories,” she said. “We were so proud of them, and there weren’t many brothers together.”
Sandoval was curious, always reading local papers, and attending community, veterans, Code Talker, and legislative meetings. He loved to travel and share what he learned based on his Diné beliefs and the Navajo way of life, said one of his daughters, Karen John.
“It was ingrained in me very early on to be part of the community,” she said. “He was really involved in a lot of things, some of which I couldn’t understand as a kid.”
Samuel Sandoval often told his story, chronicled in a book and documentary of the same name – “Naz Bah Ei Bijei: Heart of a Warrior” – at the Cortez Cultural Center in Cortez, Colorado. Had a favorite folding chair with vinyl upholstery and had black coffee, said general manager Rebecca Levy.
Levy said the Sandoval talks drew dozens of people, some of whom had to be turned away due to lack of space.
“It was a great opportunity for people who understood how important the Navajo Code Talkers were to the outcome of the war, to our benefit…to thank him in person,” Levy said.
Sandoval’s health had declined in recent years, including a fall in which he fractured his hip, Malula Sandoval said. His last trip was to New Orleans in June where he received the American Spirit Award from the National World War II Museum, she said. MacDonald, Kinsel and Begay were also honored.
Sandoval and his wife met when he ran an addiction counseling clinic, and she was a secretary, she said. They have been married for 33 years. Sandoval raised 11 children from previous marriages and blended families, John said.
Navajo President Jonathan Nez said Sandoval will be remembered as a loving and courageous person who defended his homeland using his sacred language.
“We are saddened by his passing, but his legacy will always live on in our hearts and minds,” Nez said in a statement.
Navajo Nation Council Chairman Seth Damon said Sandoval’s life was guided by character, courage, honor and integrity, and his impact will be forever remembered.
“May he rest among our toughest warriors,” Damon said in a statement.
Funeral services are pending.