(UPDATE) Military Weekend: ‘One of the Last of…’
In a sad beginning to this Memorial Day weekend, another Navajo Code Talker, John D. Pinto, died Friday at age 94.
Pinto served in the U.S. Marines in World War II as a Navajo Code talker and went on to become the longest-serving senator in New Mexico, with his service beginning in 1977.
Peter MacDonald Sr., president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association and former chairman of the Navajo Nation, said Pinto was one of seven remaining Code Talkers.
When, a decade ago, I first started documenting the heroic achievements and sacrifices of the men and women who served during World War II, the sad statistic was that approximately 1,000 members of the “Greatest Generation” were dying every day.
Today, due to the inexorable process of aging, less than half-a-million of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive and the number of those veterans leaving us every day is now at less than 350, yet each death is heart-rending.
There are other “subgroups” of World War II veterans whose numbers, to begin with, were small and of who even fewer are still with us.
Among them are the surviving members of the patriotic and intrepid Women AirForce Service Pilots, or “WASP.” Of the approximately 1,100 women who qualified to fly military aircraft of all types in support of the war effort, only approximately 300 were still alive in 2010. One of them was a beautiful lady I had the honor to get to know and to write about, Millie Dalrymple. Millie took her final flight in November 2012.
Part of an even smaller group of World War II heroes are the “Navajo Code Talkers.”
This was a group of brave Native Americans who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II using their ancient Navajo language as an unbreakable code to transmit secret messages, stymieing the enemy.
Approximately 450 Navajo code takers served our nation in the Pacific during World War II. There are less than a dozen of these brave men alive today, all of them in their 90s.
It is thus understandable that it becomes national news when “another one of the Code Talkers” leaves us.
In “Last of South Dakota’s ‘Code Talkers’ Dies,” we reported the death of Clarence Wolf Guts at age 86. He died on June 16, 2010 and was the nation’s last “Oglala Lakota code talker.”
In June 2016, Chester Nez, “the last of the original Navajo Code Talkers,” died in Albuquerque, N.M. He was 93.
In January of this year, Alfred K. Newman, one of the last of the Navajo Code Talkers, died in New Mexico at age 94.”
A week ago, the number of surviving Code Talkers went down to single digits with the death of Code Talker Fleming Begaye Sr. He was 97.
Task and Purpose:
Begay served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943 to 1945, fighting in the Battle of Tarawa and the Batter of Tinian. He spent a year in a naval hospital recovering from war wounds, the statement said.
After the war he returned to the Navajo Nation and operated Begaye’s Corner, a trading post in Chinle.
Begaye (seated, below) and two other Code Talkers were honored at a ceremony at the White House in November 2017.
During the ceremony, Peter MacDonald, president of the surviving Navajo Code Talkers said:
Fleming Begaye is 97 years old, the oldest veteran of World War II. He survived the Battle of Tarawa. His landing craft was blown up and he literally had to swim to the beach to survive. Also, on Saipan, he also landed on Tinian where he got shot up real badly, survived one year in naval hospital.
While the Native American “code talkers” are generally associated with Navajo speakers, it is reported that “code talking” was pioneered by Choctaw Indians serving in the U.S. Army during World War I and that, in addition to the Navajo code talkers, Cherokee, Choctaw and Comanche soldiers were also used as code talkers during World War II.
Because the code talkers come from different groups, tribes, regions, and states, their passing is frequently noted as “one of the last of…” or even “the last of…”
Regardless, the death of each one of these men and women, whether a WASP, a Code Talker or a “just” a member of the Greatest Generation represents a sad loss and brings us closer to the day when there won’t be any more World War II veterans to mourn. So, let’s think of each one of these losses as “one of the last ones of…” to honor and to remember.
To read more about the Navajo Code Talkers, please click here.
Lead image: Navajo Code Talkers Marine Corps Cpl. Henry Bake, Jr. and Pfc. George H. Kirk use a portable radio near enemy lines to communicate with fellow Marines in December 1943. National Archives and Records Administration photo.