World War II Navajo Code Talker Dies

George Smith, a Navajo code talker who helped the US military outsmart the Japanese during World War II, passed away Tuesday.

Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo nation, posted the sad news on his Facebook page. He wrote:

“I have ordered the Navajo Nation Flag to be flown at half-staff from Wednesday, Oct. 31 through sundown Nov. 4 to commemorate the life of Navajo Code Talker George Smith who passed away Tuesday.

“This news has saddened me. Our Navajo Code Talkers have been real life heroes to generations of Navajo people. They have brought pride to our Navajo people in so many ways. The Nation’s prayers and thoughts are with the family at this time as they mourn the passing of a great family man who served his country and protected his people.”

Smith died at the Gallup Indian Medical Center in Gallup, New Mexico. He was 90.

Smith enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943. He rose to the rank of corporal and participated in battles at Siapan, Ryukyu, and Tinian Islands. He also served in Okinawa. He received the Victory Medal as well as the Congressional Silver Medal.

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Smith’s daughter, Julie Livingston, said her father never boasted about his service to the United States.

Hundreds of Navajo served as code talkers during the war, helping the United States send messages using a communications code based on their language. The military chose Navajo because it was nearly impossible for a non-Navajo to learn the language, which has no written form. It was the only code the Japanese were unable to crack, and the relayed messages were especially crucial during battles such as Iwo Jima.

Navajo code talkers, who participated in every US Marines assault in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, were forbidden from talking about the code until it was declassified in 1968. Only four code talkers remain.