Samuel Sandoval, one of the last remaining Navajo Code Talkers, who transmitted messages in World War II using a code based on their native language, has died. Sandoval died late Friday at a hospital in Shiprock, New Mexico, his wife, Malula, told the AP on Saturday. He was 98. 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. The code, based on the then-unwritten Navajo language, confounded Japanese military cryptologists.
Forming the code was difficult because the Navajo language doesn't have words for military equipment or personnel, Sandoval told the Arizona Republic. About 600 Navajo code words were developed, which the Code Talkers had to memorize. Sandoval recalled a Marine who seemed to stick with him throughout the war. "He was always by me," Sandoval said, adding that he eventually thought of him as a friend. After the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, Sandoval's commanding officer told him, "He's your bodyguard." All Code Talkers were assigned bodyguards, he learned. He also learned why the Marine carried a pistol. "In the event that you get captured by the enemy, that pistol is for you," Sandoval said.
The Code Talkers are celebrated each Aug. 14, the day Japan surrendered, and Malula Sandoval said her husband had been looking forward to participating in the celebration this year and seeing a museum built in honor of the Code Talkers. "Sam always said, 'I wanted my Navajo youngsters 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, "that the Navajo language was powerful and always to continue carrying our legacy." As a child, Sandoval had attended a New Mexico school where he was discouraged from speaking his native language, per Veteran Affairs. (Read more obituary stories.)