Virginia Hall was born in Baltimore, Maryland on April 6, 1906. She was the youngest child of Edwin Lee Hall and Barbara Virginia Hammel. Nicknamed “Dindy” by family and friends, Virginia graduated from Roland Park Country Day School in Baltimore. From 1924 to 1926, she attended Radcliffe (Harvard University’s college for women) before going on to Barnard (Columbia University’s college for women). She attended graduate school at the American University in Washington, D.C. A self-confident and outgoing young person, Virginia participated in high school drama productions and was the editor of her college paper and president of her class.
She may well have inherited her love of adventure from her father who stowed away on her grandfather’s clipper ship when he was nine. Virginia’s parents took her to Europe for the first time in 1909 and she would go back as often as she could. As a college student, Virginia studied at the Ecole des Sciences Politiques in Paris, the Konsularakademie in Vienna, and completed brief stints at universities in Strasbourg, Grenoble, and Toulouse. While studying in Europe, Virginia mastered both French and German, although she could never quite rid herself of a slight American accent.
Virginia Hall is awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Bill Donovan, chief of Office of Strategic Services on September 23, 1945. (Photo courtesy: CIA Museum)
Before she ended up at the top of the Gestapo’s most wanted list in Nazi-occupied France, Virginia Hall spent seven years in the U.S. Foreign Service working as a consular clerk in Poland, Turkey, Italy, and Estonia. After she failed to pass the difficult U.S. Foreign Service exam on her first and second tries in December 1929 and July 1930, Virginia decided to get some practical on-the-job experience by working at U.S. missions overseas. As a result, she joined the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw in July 1931 as a consular clerk. She worked there until April 1933 when she transferred to the U.S. Consulate in the Turkish port city of Smyrna (present day Izmir).
Virginia always had a keen sense of adventure. A great lover of the outdoors, she enjoyed hiking, hunting, and horseback riding. But while serving in Turkey, Virginia suffered an unfortunate hunting accident. On December 8, 1933, her shotgun misfired as she was climbing over a fence, leaving her left foot in tatters. While her colleagues managed to get her to a local hospital in time to save her life, gangrene had already set in. The American doctor who treated her was forced to amputate her left leg below the knee. After her condition stabilized, she transferred to the American Hospital in Istanbul in January 1934. By February, she was able to travel back to the United States to continue treatment. In her home town of Baltimore, Virginia was fitted with a custom prosthetic and started learning how to walk all over again. She named her new leg “Cuthbert.”
By September 1934, Virginia was ready to get back to work. She wrote the U.S. Department of State asking to be reinstated and listed, Spain, Estonia, and Peru as her top three choices for her next assignment. How the small U.S. Legation in Tallinn made it to the top of her bid list is not quite clear. But by the late 1920s, Estonia already had a reputation in U.S. Foreign Service circles as being a very nice place to work. As there were no positions available for consular clerks where she wanted to go, Virginia was offered a position at the U.S. Consulate in Venice instead. By December 1934, she was back at work.
In Venice, Virginia tried once again to pursue her dream of joining the U.S. Foreign Service. But the odds were against her. At that time, only six out of the 1,500 or so commissioned U.S. Foreign Service officers were women. And those six women had to be single. If they got married, regulations required that they resign their commissions. In 1937, Virginia asked to complete the U.S. Foreign Service exam a third time, a process she had begun while stationed in Warsaw. To her great dismay, she received a rejection letter from the U.S. Department of State explaining that regulations required that all applicants be “able-bodied.” Virginia’s amputation, the letter went on to explain, “is a cause for rejection, and it would not be possible for Miss Hall to qualify for entry into the Service under these regulations.”
Stunned, Virginia tried to appeal the decision. Hoping that a change of location might do her some good, Virginia accepted an opening at the U.S. Legation in Tallinn where she arrived in June 1938. Under the supervision of U.S. Consul Walter A. Leonard and Vice Consul Montgomery H. Colladay, Virginia worked once again as a consular clerk. She was in Tallinn on November 24, 1938 when U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary John C. Wiley presented his credentials to State Elder Konstantin Päts – although Virginia would not have been allowed to attend the ceremony as a simple Foreign Service clerk.
From Tallinn, Virginia launched her final appeal to Assistant Secretary of State G. Howland Shaw requesting a waiver to take the Foreign Service exam. When her appeal was turned down, Virginia decided that it time to leave the U.S. Foreign Service. The routine life of a consular clerk in a nice, quite post like Tallinn simply did not offer enough of a challenge. Virginia resigned from the U.S. Foreign Service and left Estonia for Paris in May 1939 in search of something greater. In France, Virginia would find her true calling, where her twin “handicaps” of being both a woman and an amputee would not matter.
After her dreams of joining the U.S. Foreign Service were crushed, Virginia spent the summer of 1939 in Paris trying to figure out what to do with her life. Hitler’s September 1, 1939 invasion of Poland provided the answer for her. Right after France declared war on Germany on September 3, Virginia decided to follow in Ernest Hemingway’s Great War footsteps by enlisting in the French ambulance corps known as the Services Sanitaires de l’Armee as a private. During the so-called “Phony War” which lasted from September 1939 to May 1940 when the French and Germans fought only minor skirmishes, Virginia received first aid training and began her work as an ambulance driver. The job evacuating casualties from the front lines was not easy, especially as Virginia had to drive an ambulance with her wooden leg. But all hell finally broke loose on May 10 when the Germans turned their full military might on France. From that day until the fall of Paris on June 14, Virginia worked almost around the clock evacuating the wounded to relative safety.
After France surrendered to Nazi Germany on June 22, Virginia found herself stuck in occupied France. Disgusted by the Nazi regime and their policies directed against European Jews, Virginia decided that the best way for her to continue fighting the good fight would be to go to England. Thanks for her U.S. passport; she made her way to London via neutral Spain in August 1940. When she checked in at the U.S. Embassy, Virginia was immediately asked to debrief the staff about the situation in occupied France. In September, she was hired by the U.S. Defense Attaché’s Office. But Virginia did not want to end up right where she started, working as a clerk at a U.S. mission. After surviving the Battle of Britain and the Luftwaffe’s round-the-clock bombings of London which lasted from July to October 1940, Virginia was all the more convinced that she wanted to take the war to the Germans.
On February 26, 1941, Virginia resigned her position at the U.S. Embassy in London as a code clerk stating that she was “seeking other employment.” What Virginia failed to mention is that she had been recruited by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). After completing the elite SOE’s demanding agent training program, Virginia became an SOE special agent in April 1941. She then spent the summer planning her deployment in Vichy France. Virginia, codenamed Germaine, arrived in France on August 23, 1941 assuming the identity of Brigitte LeContre, a French-American reporter for the New York Post. While the SOE usually kept its agents in the field for just six months, Virginia spent the next fifteen months working in Lyon organizing, funding, supplying, and arming the French resistance. She rescued downed Allied airmen, making sure they made it safely back to England. She oversaw SOE parachute drop, designed to supply resistance fighters. She organized sabotage attacks against German supply lines. She engineered POW escapes from German and Vichy French prisons and camps. She served as a liaison for other SOE agents operating in southern France.
Virginia did her job so well that she came to the attention of both the French Vichy Police and the German Gestapo. Because Virginia was a master of evasion and disguise, they never quite managed to figure out who Germaine was. But the Nazi authorities had enough information on her that they were looking for a “French-Canadian” nicknamed la dame qui boite – the Lady with the Limp. When U.S. and British forces invaded North Africa in November 1942, the fiction that was known as Vichy France came to an abrupt end. German troops took full control of the rest of France. The infamous Klaus Barbie assumed control over the Gestapo in former Vichy territorities. “The Butcher of Lyon” – as he would become known – launched a nation-wide hunt to find Virginia, complete with want ads and posters. The Nazis code-named Virginia Artemis. Barbie is reputed to have told his staff: “I would give anything to lay my hands on that Canadian bitch.”
But by the time Barbie arrived in Lyon, Virginia had vanished. Despite the winter snows and her wooden leg, Virginia hiked all the way across the Pyrenees and into Spain. After being imprisoned in Spain for twenty days for lacking the proper documentation for entry, Virginia made it back to London in time for Christmas dinner where she was greeted by her SOE colleagues as a hero. Not content to sit around, Virginia wanted to get back out into the field.
But now that Virginia was at the top of the Gestapo’s most wanted list, the SOE thought that it was much too dangerous to send her back to occupied France. Virginia’s next assignment took her to Madrid in May 1943 where she worked undercover as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Her job was to run a network of safe houses. But Spain was too far from the front lines for Virginia’s liking. She transferred back to London and spent her free time how to become a radio operator. In July 1943, Virginia was made a Member of the British Empire for her outstanding contributions to the Allied war effort. She declined to accept the medal from King George VI for fear it would blow her cover.
As the SOE refused to send her back behind German lines, Virginia set out to find someone who would. On March 10, 1944, Virginia joined the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) with the grudging approval of the SOE. By the end of the month, Virginia (now code-named Diane) was back in France disguised as an old lady. She was taken to the coast of Bretagne by a wooden speed boat under the cover of darkness. She and a fellow agent landed on the shore in a rubber dinghy. After transiting through Paris, Virginia set up operations in a village south of Paris named Maidou where she monitored and reported on German troop movements. As the Germans had sophisticated radio detection equipment, the job of an undercover radio operator was incredibly dangerous. When the Gestapo began to close in, Virginia moved further south to the town of Cosne where she set up operations in May 1944. With the Allied invasion of France drawing near, OSS agent Diane received new orders to organize the local French Résistance forces. Having already done this in Lyon for the SOE, Virginia knew exactly what to do. She went to work contacting the French Résistance network and arranging for weapons, supplies, and other agents to be dropped behind enemy lines.
By the time Allied troops landed in Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944, Virginia and her men were ready. They sabotaged supply lines, attacked German troops, and caused enough chaos behind enemy lines to hinder movements to the north of France. All over France, other OSS- and SOE-led French Résistance groups were doing exactly the same. When Allied troops hit the beaches of southern France on August 16, 1944, Virginia and her fellow agents switched tactics. What had been a guerilla war intended to harass and disrupt German forces became an all out war. On August 26, Virginia and her French Résistance troops accepted the surrender of the German southern command at Le Chambon. As the war in France was winding down, Virginia was instructed to coordinate another parachute drop on September 4. One of the men who arrived as part of the drop was a French-American lieutenant named Paul Goillot who called both Paris and New York home. While it was almost love at first sight, there was still a war to be won.
After clearing their zone of any resistance, Virginia, Paul, and several of their colleagues left Cosne on September 13 looking for more Germans to fight. By September 25, they made it to Paris which had been liberated the month before. After they reporting in, the OSS congratulated Virginal and her team on a job well done and pulled them out of the field.
Although it looked like the war would soon be over, the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944 to January 1945) made it clear that the final battle for Germany would be long and hard. As a result, Virginia and Paul volunteered for another dangerous mission, this one behind German lines in Austria. On April 25, Virginia’s new OSS team was in position in Switzerland, waiting for their orders to cross the border. But on May 2, the mission was scrubbed. Six days later, Germany surrendered to the Allies. The war in Europe was finally over.
Already a British hero for her work with the SOE, Virginia became an American hero when she received the Distinguished Service Cross on September 23, 1945 for her work with the OSS. In a letter to President Harry S Truman, General William J. Donovan wrote: “Miss Virginia Hall, an American civilian working for this agency in the European Theatre of Operations, has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against the enemy. We understand that Miss Hall is the first civilian woman in this war to receive the DSC. Despite the fact that she was well known to the Gestapo, Miss Hall voluntarily returned to France in March 1944 to assist in sabotage operations against the Germans.” Although President Truman wanted to present the award at a public ceremony, Virginia insisted on protecting her cover. So instead, General Donovan – who earned both the Medal of Honor and the DSC while in command of the famous “Fighting Irish” regiment during the First World War – gave Virginia her DSC at a private ceremony attended only by her mother.
Always modest, Virginia’s only comment on receiving America’s second highest award for bravery is said to have been: “Not bad for a girl from Baltimore.”
Back in the United States after the war, Virginia tried to join the U.S. Foreign Service one more time in March 1946 after President Truman dissolved the OSS. But she was turned down once again – this time because of “budgetary cutbacks.” As a result, Virginia ended up joining the recently created Central Intelligence Group which would eventually evolve into the Central Intelligence Agency. Virginia spent a good part of 1947 and 1948 working in the field in Europe. After her return to the U.S., she worked for the CIA’s National Committee for Free Europe in New York City where she lived with her long-time love, Paul Goillot. The two would finally get married in 1950. While Virginia wanted to stay out in the field, the CIA put her to work as an analyst in the Office of Policy Coordination in Washington in December 1951. Working a variety of jobs at the agency, Virginia was the first woman to become a member of the CIA’s Career Staff in 1956. She left ten years later when she reached the mandatory retirement age of sixty.
Living on her farm in Barnestown, Maryland, Virginia enjoyed reading, bird-watching, gardening, weaving, and her pet poodles. She died on July 12, 1982 in Rockville, Maryland at the age of 76. Virginia’s wartime exploits are meticulously documented in Judith L. Pearson’s The Wolves at the Door: the True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy (2005).
(Resources used for this article come from the following:
- Central Intelligence Agency
- Pearson, Judith L.The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy. Lyons Press, 2005.
- Kramer, Ann Women Wartime Spies. MJF Books, Fine Communications, 2011
- This article is excerpted in part from the “Clandestine Women: The Untold Stories of Women in Espionage” Exhibition, produced by the National Women’s History Museum, Annandale, Virginia, in 2002.
- ”Virginia Hall,” Central Intelligence Agency, n.d., http://www.cia.gov/cia/ciakids/history/vhall.html.
- “We must find and destroy her,” S. News, 27 January 2003
- PHOTO; CIA
December 7, 1941
As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of this “date which will live in infamy,” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it on December 8, 1941, explore six little known facts about the USS Arizona and the attack that plunged America into war.
- At 6:54 a. m. (Hawaii Time) The USS Ward sunk a Japanese midget submarine near the entrance to Pearl Harbor.
At the beginning of World War II, Captain William Outerbridge skippered the USS Ward, a re-commissioned ship built during the World War I period. Reportedly in his first command and on his first patrol off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, Outerbridge and the USS Ward detected a Japanese two-man midget submarine near the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The USS Ward detected the midget sub at 6:45 AM and sank it at 6:54 AM, firing the first shots in defense of the U.S. in World War II. Captain Outerbridge was reportedly awarded the Navy Cross for Heroism.
(Sub was located 2002 exactly at location in Outerbridge’s report.)
- At 7:55 a.m. (Hawaii Time) – The United States of America was plunged into World War II
At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time (12:55 p.m. EST) on December 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes attacked the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, launching one of the deadliest attacks in American history. The assault, which lasted less than two hours, claimed the lives of more than 2,500 people, wounded 1,000 more and damaged or destroyed 18 American ships and nearly 300 airplanes. Almost half of the casualties at Pearl Harbor occurred on the naval battleship USS Arizona, which was hit four times by Japanese bombers.
- Twenty-three sets of brothers died aboard the USS Arizona.
There were 37 confirmed pairs or trios of brothers assigned to the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. Of these 77 men, 62 were killed, and 23 sets of brothers died. Only one full set of brothers, Kenneth and Russell Warriner, survived the attack; Kenneth was away at flight school in San Diego on that day and Russell was badly wounded but recovered. Both members of the ship’s only father-and-son pair, Thomas Augusta Free and his son William Thomas Free, were killed in action. Though family members often served on the same ship before World War II, U.S. officials attempted to discourage the practice after Pearl Harbor. However, no official regulations were established, and by the end of the war hundreds of brothers had fought—and died,—together. The five Sullivan brothers of Waterloo, Iowa, for instance, jointly enlisted after learning that a friend, Bill Ball, had died aboard the USS Arizona; Their only condition upon enlistment was that they be assigned to the same ship. In November 1942, all five siblings were killed in action when their light cruiser, the USS Juneau, was sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
Almost half of the casualties at Pearl Harbor occurred on the naval battleship USS Arizona, which was hit four times by Japanese bombers and eventually sank. Among the 1,177 crewmen killed were all 21 members of the Arizona’s band, known as U.S. Navy Band Unit (NBU) 22. Most of its members were up on deck preparing to play music for the daily flag raising ceremony when the attack began. They instantly moved to man their battle positions beneath the ship’s gun turret. At no other time in American history has an entire military band died in action.
- Fuel continues to leak from the USS Arizona’s wreckage.
December 6, 1941, the USS Arizona took on a full load of fuel—nearly 1.5 million gallons—in preparation for its scheduled trip to the mainland later that month. The next day, much of it fed the explosion and subsequent fires that destroyed the ship following
its attack by Japanese bombers. While the USS Duncan was in at Pearl Harbor for refitting and repairs, Roy Boehm, a 17 year old Navy hardhat diver, was tasked with salvaging the sunken USS Arizona and diving to recover corpses and ammunition. (Boehm would continue in the Navy and eventually be asked by President John F. Kennedy to form the SEALs, thus becoming the First SEAL.)
However, despite the raging fire and ravages of time, some 500,000 gallons are still slowly seeping out of the ship’s submerged wreckage: Nearly 70 years after its demise, the USS Arizona continues to spill up to 9 quarts of oil into the harbor each day. In the mid-1990s, environmental concerns led the National Park Service (NPS) to commission a series of site studies to determine the long-term effects of the oil leakage.
Some scientists have warned of a possible “catastrophic” eruption of oil from the wreckage, which they believe would cause extensive damage to the Hawaiian shoreline and disrupt U.S. naval functions in the area. The NPS and other governmental agencies continue to monitor the deterioration of the wreck site but are reluctant to perform extensive repairs or modifications due to the Arizona’s role as a “war grave.” In fact, the oil that often coats the surface of the water surrounding the ship has added an emotional gravity for many who visit the memorial and is sometimes referred to as the “tears of the Arizona,” or “black tears.”
- Some former crew-members have chosen the USS Arizona as their final resting place.
The bonds between the crew-members of the USS Arizona have lasted far beyond the ship’s loss on December 7, 1941. Since 1982, the U.S. Navy has allowed survivors of the USS Arizona to be interred in the ship’s wreckage upon their deaths. Following a full military funeral at the Arizona memorial, the cremated remains are placed in an urn and then deposited by divers beneath one of the Arizona’s gun turrets. To date, more than 30 Arizona crewmen who survived Pearl Harbor have chosen the ship as their final resting place. Crew-members who served on the ship prior to the attack may have their ashes scattered above the wreck site, and those who served on other vessels stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, may have their ashes scattered above their former ships. There are 6 living survivors as of today, 28 Sep 2016. Several have decided to be buried on the Arizona.
After the USS Arizona sank, its superstructure and main armament were salvaged and reused to support the war effort, leaving its hull, two gun turrets and the remains of more than 1,000 crewmen submerged in less than 40 feet of water. In 1949 the Pacific War Memorial Commission was established to create a permanent tribute to those who had lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor, but it was not until 1958 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation to create a national memorial. The funds to build it came from both the public sector and private donors, including one unlikely source. In March 1961, entertainer Elvis Presley, who had recently finished a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, performed a benefit concert at Pearl Harbor’s Block Arena that raised over $50,000—more than 10 percent of the USS Arizona Memorial’s final cost. The monument was officially dedicated on May 30, 1962, and attracts more than 1 million visitors each year.
It was at last my senior year in high school. We were so excited to be graduating at the end of this school year. We had several new teachers that year because the school had enlarged. One of the new teachers was a Chemistry teacher named Mr. Outerbridge. None of us knew at the time he would change our lives as he had the lives of many others 30 years prior.
Let me introduce you to Mr. Outerbridge. He was an older gentleman probably about mid 70’s in age. He always had a lot of neat stories to tell when we completed our chemistry lessons for the day. William Woodward Outerbridge was born in Hong Kong, China, on 14 April 1906. He matriculated at MMI from Middleport, Ohio, and graduated from the high school program in 1923. A member of “E” Company, he was a cadet private and held membership in the Yankee Club and, ironically, in the Stonewall Jackson Literary Society. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, in the Class of 1927.
One day in December he told us we would take a break from Chemistry. He needed to tell us a true story about himself and Pearl Harbor. Of course all of us thought we knew all about Pearl Harbor since we have been taught about that since our earliest memories. Little did we know we had a true war hero in our midst. That man was Captain William Woodward Outerbridge, Captain of the USS Ward. The Ward was advised by the USS CONDOR that a mini-sub was headed to the entry channel of the port of Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.
At the beginning of World War II, Captain Outerbridge skippered the USS Ward, a recommissioned ship built during the World War I period. Reportedly in his first command and on his first patrol off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, Outerbridge and the USS Ward detected a Japanese two-man midget submarine near the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The USS Ward detected the midget sub at 6:45 AM and sank it at 6:54 AM, firing the first shots in defense of the U.S. in World War II. Captain Outerbridge was reportedly awarded the Navy Cross for Heroism.
Noted for firing the first shots in defense of the United States during World War II – just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – then Captain William W. Outerbridge served as the skipper of the destroyer USS Ward. He reported the action and the sinking of the submarine before the attack by Japan.
During World War II, Captain Outerbridge served in both the Pacific and the Atlantic, taking part in operations at Pearl Harbor, Normandy and Cherbourg, France, and at Ormoc, Mindoro, Lingayon Gulf and Okinawa. He also participated in the carrier task force strikes against Tokyo and the Japanese mainland.
Outerbridge later both attended and taught at the Naval War College; he also taught at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. William Outerbridge retired from the Navy in 1957 as a Rear Admiral (RADM).
RADM Outerbridge married the former Grace Fulwood of Tifton, Georgia. They were the parents of three sons. The Admiral died on 20 September 1986. His last address was Tifton, Georgia.
In 2002, the submarine was discovered in 1200 feet of water off Pearl Harbor with the shell holes in the coning tower confirmed Outerbridge’s report.
(This information is presented from this author’s personal conversations with RADM Outerbridge, from her notes and from personal research. Additional information may be located in the Eisenhower Library Papers, the USN Archives re: investigation of the sinking of the mini sub.)
U.S. Marine Corps 1942-1945
U.S. Army Reserve 1946-1949
Iowa Air National Guard 1949-1951
U.S. Air Force 1951-1977
World War II 1942-1945
Cold War 1945-1977
Korean War 1953
Vietnam War 1967-1973 (POW)
Bud Day was born on February 24, 1925, in Sioux City, Iowa. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on December 10, 1942, and spent 30 months in the South Pacific during World War II before receiving an honorable discharge on November 24, 1945.
After the war, Day joined the U.S. Army Reserve on December 11, 1946, and served until December 10, 1949. He was appointed a 2d Lt in the Iowa Air National Guard on May 17, 1950, and went on active duty in the U.S. Air Force on March 15, 1951.
Lt Day completed pilot training and was awarded his pilot wings at Webb AFB, Texas, in September 1952, and completed All-Weather Interceptor School and Gunnery School in December 1952. He served as an F-84 Thunder jet pilot with the 559th Strategic Fighter Squadron of the 12th Strategic Fighter Wing at Bergstrom AFB, Texas, from February 1953 to August 1955, with deployments to Omisawa, Japan, during this time in support of the Korean War.
His next assignment was as an F-84 and F-100 Super Sabre pilot with the 55th Fighter Bomber Squadron of the 20th Fighter Bomber Wing and later on the wing staff at RAF Wethersfield, England, from August 1955 to June 1959, followed by service as an Assistant Professor of Aerospace Science at the Air Force ROTC detachment at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, from June 1959 to August 1963. During his service in England, he became the first person ever to live through a no-chute bailout from a jet fighter.
CPT Day attended Armed Forces Staff College for Counterinsurgency Indoctrination training at Norfolk, Virginia, from August 1963 to January 1964, and then served as an Air Force Advisor to the New York Air National Guard at Niagara Falls Municipal Airport, New York, from January 1964 to April 1967.
MAJ Day then deployed to Southeast Asia, serving first as an F-100 Assistant Operations Officer at Tuy Hoa AB, South Vietnam, before organizing and serving as the first commander of the Misty Super FACs at Phu Cat AB, South Vietnam, from June 1967 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on August 26, 1967. He managed to escape from his captors and make it into South Vietnam before being recaptured and taken to Hanoi. After spending 2,028 days in captivity, COL Day was released during Operation Homecoming on March 14, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at March AFB, California, and then received an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment to complete his PhD in Political Science at Arizona State University from August 1973 to July 1974.
His final assignment was as an F-4 Phantom II pilot and Vice Commander of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida, from September 1974 until his retirement from the Air Force on December 9, 1977. MISTY 1, Col Bud Day, died on July 27, 2013, and was buried at Barrancas National Cemetery at NAS Pensacola, Florida.
His Medal of Honor Citation reads:
On 26 August 1967, Col. Day was forced to eject from his aircraft over North Vietnam when it was hit by ground fire. His right arm was broken in 3 places, and his left knee was badly sprained. He was immediately captured by hostile forces and taken to a prison camp where he was interrogated and severely tortured. After causing the guards to relax their vigilance, Col. Day escaped into the jungle and began the trek toward South Vietnam. Despite injuries inflicted by fragments of a bomb or rocket, he continued southward surviving only on a few berries and uncooked frogs. He successfully evaded enemy patrols and reached the Ben Hai River, where he encountered U.S. artillery barrages. With the aid of a bamboo log float, Col. Day swam across the river and entered the demilitarized zone. Due to delirium, he lost his sense of direction and wandered aimlessly for several days. After several unsuccessful attempts to signal U.S. aircraft, he was ambushed and recaptured by the Viet Cong, sustaining gunshot wounds to his left hand and thigh. He was returned to the prison from which he had escaped and later was moved to Hanoi after giving his captors false information to questions put before him. Physically, Col. Day was totally debilitated and unable to perform even the simplest task for himself. Despite his many injuries, he continued to offer maximum resistance. His personal bravery in the face of deadly enemy pressure was significant in saving the lives of fellow aviators who were still flying against the enemy. Col. Day’s conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.
Ira Hamilton Hayes, participant in the famous flag raising on Iwo Jima, was a Pima Indian, born at Sacaton, Arizona, on 12 January 1923. In 1932, the family moved a few miles southward to Bapchule. Both Sacaton and Bapchule are located within the boundaries of the Gila River Indian Reservation in south central Arizona. Hayes left high school after completing two years of study. He served in the Civilian Conservation Corps in May and June of 1942, and then went to work as a carpenter.
On 26 August 1942, Ira Hayes enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve at Phoenix for the duration of the National Emergency. Following boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at San Diego, Hayes was assigned to the Parachute Training School at Camp Gillespie, Marine Corps Base, San Diego. Graduated one month later, the Arizonan was qualified as a parachutist on 30 November and promoted to private first class the next day. On 2 December, he joined Company B, 3rd Parachute Battalion, Divisional Special Troops, 3rd Marine Division, at Camp Elliott, California, with which he sailed for Noumea, New Caledonia, on 14 March 1943.
In April, Hayes’ unit was redesignated Company K, 3rd Parachute Battalion, 1st Marine Parachute Regiment. In October Hayes sailed for Vella Lavella, arriving on the 14th. Here, he took part in the campaign and occupation of that island until 3 December when he moved north to Bougainville, arriving on the 4th. The campaign there was already underway, but the parachutists had a full share of fighting before they left on 15 January 1944.
Hayes was ordered to return to the United States where he landed at San Diego on 14 February 1944, after slightly more than 11 months overseas and two campaigns. The parachute units were disbanded in February, and Hayes was transferred to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, of the 5th Marine Division, then at Camp Pendleton, California.
In September, Hayes sailed with his company for Hawaii for more training. He sailed from Hawaii in January en route to Iwo Jima where he landed on D-day (19 February 1945) and remained during the fighting until 26 March. Then he embarked for Hawaii where he boarded a plane for the U.S. on 15 April. On the 19th, he joined Company C, 1st Headquarters Battalion, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.
On 10 May, Hayes, Private First Class Gagnon, Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class Bradley, and Marine Technical Sergeant Keyes Beech, a combat correspondent, left on the bond selling tour. In Chicago, Hayes received orders directing his return to the 28th Marines. He arrived at Hilo, Hawaii, and rejoined Company E of the 29th on 28 May. Three weeks later, on 19 June, he was promoted to corporal.
With the end of the war, Corporal Hayes and his company left Hilo and landed at Sasebo, Japan, on 22 September to participate in the occupation of Japan. On 25 October, Corporal Hayes boarded his eleventh and last ship to return to his homeland for the third time. Landing at San Francisco on 9 November, he was honorably discharged on 1 December.
Corporal Hayes was awarded a Letter of Commendation with Commendation Ribbon by the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, Lieutenant General Roy S. Geiger, for his “meritorious and efficient performance of duty while serving with a Marine infantry battalion during operations against the enemy on Vella Lavella and Bougainville, British Solomon Islands, from 15 August to 15 December 1943, and on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, from 19 February to 27 March 1945.”
The list of the Corporal’s decorations and medals includes the Commendation Ribbon with “V” combat device, Presidential Unit Citation with one star (for Iwo Jima), Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four stars (for Vella Lavella, Bougainville, Consolidation of the Northern Solomons, and Iwo Jima), American Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
The Corporal Hayes, U.S.M.C. completed his earthly tour of Duty at Bapchule on 24 January 1955. He was buried with honors on 2 February 1955 at Arlington National Cemetery, in Section 34, Plot 479A.
There are probably no more tragic stories than that of Ira Hayes. Born to Joe E. and Nancy W. Hayes on the Pima Indian Reservation in Sacaton, Arizona, Ira was the son of a poor farming family. His family and people had struggled for years to make a living in the arid conditions of the Reservation and had little success beyond survival. At one time the Pima were successful farmers but that was before the US Government cut off their water supply and created a situation where they could no longer grow enough crops to eat.
Until the beginning of W.W.II, his life was probably unnoticed by anyone more than a few miles from his birthplace. When America called its men to arms Ira answered this call and joined the US Marine Corps for several reasons: He would be able to leave the Reservation, eat regularly and send money home to his family to help them have a better life. His Tribal Chief told him to be an Honorable Warrior and to bring honor upon his people. Ira never failed to do this. He was a dedicated Marine who was admired by his peers who fought alongside him in three major battles in the Pacific.
February 23, 1945, at age 23, an event occurred that would forever place Ira Hayes in this nation’s history books and irrevocably change his life. On a hilltop above a Pacific island, a small group of Marines struggled to raise the American flag to claim victory over the Japanese occupancy. As the flag was being raised, Ira rushed to help his comrades just as the photographer snapped what was to become one of the most famous pictures in history. That picture was the “Flag Raising At Iwo Jima” and it is Ira’s hands that are outstretched to give the final thrust that planted this symbol of American victory. Six men were caught in that photograph, three of them died shortly afterwards. The battle of Iwo Jima was a costly one for our troops. Only 5 of Ira’s platoon of 45 survived and of his company of 250, only 27 escaped death or injury.
Ira Hayes was stunned when he was told that President Truman wanted him and the other survivors to return to the United State to join the 7th Bond Tour to help raise money for the war efforts. He never considered himself a hero and often said the real heroes were “my good buddies” who died during the battles. What was supposed to be an easy tour of duty turned into the worst ordeal of Ira’s military life. He never understood why he was called an American hero and struggled with the adulation that was heaped on him everywhere he went. Over and over he made statements that he was not a hero but reminded everyone of the brave men who had died and deserved this honor.
By the time Ira was released from duty he was hopelessly addicted to alcohol. The Bond Tour had been a battle that had taken more of a toll on him than any he fought in the Pacific. It seemed that this nation found one way to honor its heroes: Buy them a drink! Ira went back to the Reservation to escape the unwanted attention he’d be forced to bear but people did not stop writing and coming to see “the Indian who raised the flag.” Ira’s only escape from the conflict he felt over being viewed as a hero was the bottle. Over and over he made statements like; “I was sick. I guess I was about to crack up thinking about all my good buddies. They were better men than me and they’re not coming back. Much less back to the White House, like me.” After a ceremony where he was praised by President Eisenhower once again for being a hero, a reporter asked Ira, “How do you like the pomp & circumstances?” Ira just hung his head and said, “I don’t.”
For the next few years Ira Hayes was a drifter and loner addicted to alcohol. He never married, was often arrested for public intoxication and was filled with despair over the plight of his people. He had been wined and dined by the rich and powerful, had been immortalized in American history but he was still no more than an Indian on a dried up Reservation now that he’d come home. There was still no water, no crops and no hope for a better life for the Pima or him. All this time he still struggled with his own inability to reconcile himself as being worthy of the fame he’d received for simply being one of the lucky ones who lived through such a horrible war. Ira never saw his military service as any more than just being an “Honorable Warrior.”
In 1954, Ira Hayes attended the dedication ceremony in Washington, D. C. for the Iwo Jima Memorial. This monument was a bronze cast replica of the now famous photograph of the flag raising, created by Felix DeWeldon. Within 10 weeks of this celebration Ira Hamilton Hayes would be dead at age 33. After another night of drinking and still lamenting over his fallen “buddies”, Ira fell into an irrigation ditch and froze to death, alone and forgotten by a country that had called him a hero. The ditch where he died was the single source of water that was provided for his people by the same government he’d proudly served.
Note: Ira H. Hayes was one of the first public figures to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During Ira’s time, it was referred to “Shell Shock” or “Survivor’s Guilt” and there was little or no treatment. Today, about 30% of war veterans experience PTSD and receive various treatment methods. If you or someone you know exhibits PTSD characteristics please seek professional help.
George Smith, 90, of Sundance, New Mexico, died 30 October 2012 at Gallup Indian Medical Center. He was born 15 June 1922 in Mariano Lake, New Mexico and was Salt People Clan, born for Black Streak Wood People Clan.
Grandson Merrill Teengar presented the eulogy by sharing moments from Smith’s life as a family man and Marine during the service at Rollie Mortuary.
“He loved his family and especially fond of the little ones,” Teengar said. “During his last visit to the hospital, he said ‘Don’t worry, everything will be OK. I lived my life. It’s time for me to go.'”
Like many Navajo boys, Smith spent his youth herding sheep with his brothers and spent time renaming the familiar landscape that comprise the back hills of Rehoboth and Breadsprings, N.M.
“He mentioned these days like they happened days before,” Teengar said.
Smith attended school in Crownpoint, which generated stories about school dances that he shared with his grandchildren.
“His grandchildren would tease him about the school dances he talked about,” Teengar said then added that his grandfather smiled ear to ear when watching the grandchildren imitate the dances.
His education continued at Wingate, where dancing was not allowed, Teengar said.
Smith enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1943 and was trained as a rifle marksman then as a Code Talker and served in the battles of Ryukyu Islands, Saipan and Tinian and served in Hawaii, Japan and Okinawa.
He was one of three brothers who joined the military – his oldest brother Ray Smith joined the Army and his younger brother Albert Smith joined the Marines and also became a Code Talker.
Smith was 17 and Albert was 15 when they enlisted but changed their ages by two years.
He was honorably discharged 07 January 1946 with the rank of corporal.
After the war, he worked as a destroyer of old ammunition at the Fort Wingate Army Depot then as a mechanic at Fort Wingate Trading Post. “He loved fixing vehicles and did it well,” Teengar said then added that Smith taught his children and grandchildren the “ins and outs” of vehicle maintenance. “It came to the point where he could diagnose a vehicle problem while talking to someone on the phone,” Teengar said.
Smith eventually worked as an auto and heavy equipment diesel mechanic at Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority (NECA) in Fort Defiance then in Shiprock. He retired in 1995. Under NECA, he was sent to school in Peoria, Ill. and earned diesel mechanic credentials. Because Smith talked about his job with his family, his grandchildren gave him the nickname “NECA dude.”
He was a member of the Navajo Code Talkers Association and the Church Rock Veterans Organization. His favorite parade was the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial where he enjoyed seeing familiar faces in the crowd.
Through his work with the Navajo Code Talkers Association, he traveled to many places including a revisit to Pearl Harbor and Saipan.
The funeral service, spoken in both English and Navajo, was a fitting homage to Navajo Code Talker George Smith, who delivered the code, based on the Navajo language that helped the United States defeat Japanese forces during World War II.
Corporal Smith was buried with full military honors at the Rehobeth Cemetery.
Flags were ordered to be flown at half-staff by President Joe Shirley of the Navajo Nation in Brown’s honor.
“. . . with sadness, we heard of the passing of Mr. John Brown Jr., one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers and one of the Navajo Nation’s great warriors,” Shirley said. “For so long, these brave men were the true unsung heroes of World War II, shielding their valiant accomplishments not only from the world but from their own families. The recognition and acknowledgment of their great feats came to them late in life but, for most, not too late. These heroes among us are now a very precious few, and we, as a nation, mourn their loss. We offer our deepest condolences to the family of Mr. John Brown Jr.”
John Brown, Jr. was born 24 December 1921, in Chinle, near Canyon de Chelly to John and Nonabah Begay Brown. Brown attended Chinle Boarding School and graduated in 1940 from Albuquerque Indian School. He was playing basketball when he heard about the bombing at Pearl Harbor, said his son Frank Brown.
“Sometime after that he remembered a number of Marine recruiters started talking to the young Navajo boys,” Frank Brown said. Brown ended up going to Fort Wingate to the military installation. His father remembered being signed up, sworn in and given his physical right then and there, Frank Brown said. Brown was immediately sent to Camp Pendleton for basic training. “They weren’t allowed to go home to say goodbye to their family or write letters,” Frank Brown said. “At some phase in their basic training, they were taken into one big room and a commandant told them they were all there for a special reason, and they were to devise a code in their language,” Frank Brown said. “The boys were left there in the room and they didn’t know what the heck to do. But they devised the code using names of animals and mammals to describe what would go with the alphabet.”
That code consisted of translations for 211 English words and was later expanded to 411 words, according to the president’s office. The code also included Navajo equivalents for the letters in the English alphabets so the Code Talkers could spell out names and locations. The code and the Code Talkers would help end World War II.
Navajo Code Talkers participated in battles in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. Frank Brown said his father served in four major battles at Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian and Guadalcanal. The code was not declassified until 1968.
Brown was one of the original 29 Code Talkers presented with the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush on July 26, 2001 — 56 years following World War II.
“It is, indeed, an honor to be here today before you, representing my fellow distinguished Navajo code talkers,” Brown said at the presentation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. “Only destiny has demanded my presence here, for we must never forget that these such events are made possible only by the ultimate sacrifice of thousands of American men and women who, I am certain, are watching us now. And yes, it is fitting, too, here in the Capitol Rotunda – such a historic place, where so many heroes have been honored. I’m proud that the Navajo Code Talkers today join the ranks of these great Americans. I’d like especially to thank Senator Bingaman and all of work that he has given to make this occasion possible, to recognize the code talkers.”
“I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942, not to become a Code Talker — that came later — but to defend the United States of America in the war against the Japanese emperor.”
“My mother was afraid for my safety, so my grandfather told her to take one of my shoes, place an arrowhead in it, take it to the mountain called Two Little Hills, and go there every day to pray that I would remain safe. Maybe she was more successful than she imagined because the Marine Corps soon had the Navajo Marines develop a secret code using our language. My comrade and I volunteered to become Navajo radio operators, or Code Talkers,” Brown said at the presentation.
“Our precious and sacred Navajo language was bestowed upon us, not a nation, but a holy people. Our language is older than the Constitution of the United States. I’m proud that, at this point in American history, our native language and the code we developed came to the aid of our country, saving American lives and helping the other U.S. armed forces ultimately to defeat the enemies.”
“After the original 29 Code Talkers, there are just five of us that live today: Chester Nez, Lloyd Oliver, Allen Dale June, Joe Palmer and myself. We have seen much in our lives. We have experienced war and peace. We know the value of freedom and democracy that this great nation embodies. But our experience has also shown us how fragile these things can be and how we must stay ever vigilant to protect them, as Code Talkers, as Marines.
“We did our part to protect these values. It is my hope that our young people will carry on this honorable tradition as long as the grass shall grow and water shall flow,” Brown said.
“Mr. President, we four original code talkers present this day, including the families of my comrades who aren’t able to be here with us, are honored to be here to receive this award. Thank you,” Brown said.
President Richard Nixon awarded Navajo Code Talkers a special certificate in appreciation for their patriotism, resourcefulness and courage in 1971. They were included in the Bicentennial Parade in Washington July 4, 1976.
The U. S. Senate passed a bill declaring August 14 National Code Talkers Day in May 1982.
Frank Brown said his father lived a hard life, first training as a welder, then becoming a journeyman and master carpenter and cabinetmaker. He was one of the veterans who returned to Navajo land and helped to build the Navajo government by serving as a member of the Navajo Tribal Council from 1962 to 1982. He also served three terms as Crystal Chapter president. “He was always active in politics,” Frank Brown said. “He was a wonderful speaker.”
Brown began a second career as a traditional counselor for the tribe’s Division of Social Services, driving 130 miles to Chinle and back each day. After that, he went on a lecture tour speaking about the Navajo Code Talkers around the country and becoming active in the Navajo Code Talkers Association, his son said. “Dad was also a traditional practitioner, constantly learning the traditional way of life but at the same time he was always active in the Mormon Church,” Frank Brown said.
Brown is survived by his wife Loncie Polacca Brown and his children Dorothy Whilden, Preston Brown, Everett Brown, Virgil Brown and Frank Brown. His other children were the late Dale Brown and the late Ruth Ann McComb.
He is buried at Crystal Cemetery, San Juan County, New Mexico.
Dan Akee, of the Kiyanni and Ashihii clans, was born in Coalmine Canyon in November 1922. He grew up in the Coalmine Mesa area. He started school in 1928 at an early age at the Tuba City Boarding School. Akee withdrew from school shortly after he started for medical reasons and went to a convalescence home in Kayenta, Ariz. to recover from tuberculosis. There he taught himself and reached a 10th grade level equivalent.
Akee enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1943, shortly after the outbreak of WWII. Akee trained as a code talker and was detailed to the 4th Marine Division, 25th Regiment. From 1943-45, Akee took part in some of the most ferocious fighting in the Pacific theater. He participated in the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima campaigns.
As a code talker, Akee transmitted and received messages in coded Navajo, a code that was never broken. During battle, Akee was often on the front lines, receiving communication for his regiment. Especially at Iwo Jima, he lost many of his regiment and friends. Some years ago, the Retired Sergeant Major received the Congressional Silver Medal of Honor for his service.
After the war, Akee retired to civilian life with a rank of Sergeant Major, the highest rank for a non-commissioned Marine officer. He went back to high school at the Sherman Institute in Calif. but did not get a high school diploma, because of post war stress trauma. According to Akee, he recovered from the trauma with the help of Navajo Way and Christianity. He worked on the railroad and in a uranium ore processing plant. In 1967, he became an interpreter with Tuba City Hospital’s mental health department where he retired in 1988 after 21 years of service.
After delivering a prayer of remembrance in Navajo, Akee outlined the skills needed to memorize the approximately 555 Navajo words in the highly classified system. The code terms were designed to communicate locations and information of strategic importance during the Second World War. Navajo words, he said, were integrated to represent approximately 450 military terms not in the traditional language, such as submarine and dive-bomber.
The Tuba City resident explained it took five months to memorize the code, which remained top-secret until declassified in 1968. He emphasized the importance of indigenous language preservation and how the code was used to save many lives on both sides, and especially hasten the end of the war.
The approximately 450 Navajo Marines were not allowed to discuss their Signal Corps role in World War II until the 1990s. In 2001, they received Congressional Medals for service to their country.
School officials said the honorary high school diploma is long overdue and recognizes Akee’s achievement as a code talker and his outstanding and tireless lifetime of service to the Navajo people and the United States.
Dan Akee and his wife have 12 children. As of 2011, Sergeant Major Dan Akee and his wife had 73 grandchildren.
All the rest of the U.S. Marines who created the first unbreakable code that baffled the Japanese during World War II have died. Nez has been asked to tell his own story many times. When he tells it in English, he refers to pre-written answers his family keeps on a sheet of notebook paper. The questions are almost always the same. When his memory fails him — at 93, Nez is now an old man — he looks off into the distance. “Ask my son,” he says.
But when he speaks in Navajo, in the vivid light of the late afternoon, the colors of his memories are saturated, the edges sharp.
He remembers the words that helped slay the enemy even as they pierced his own sacred beliefs.
He remembers the words that helped protect him on the fields of battle.
And he remembers a full life. There is so much more to remember about Iiná, life.
Summers spent chasing after lambs and goats among the high desert scrub southwest of Gallup, N.M.
The school on the Navajo Reservation. A Marine Corps recruiter in a crisp uniform. A bus trip to California.
The room at Camp Elliott where Nez would help devise the simple code.
A war to fight in a faraway land.
A home to return to.
Demons to bury.
“Chéch’iltah déé’ naashá. I’m from Chi Chil Tah, among the oaks, in Jones Ranch, N.M,” he introduces himself in Navajo. “I belong to my mother’s matriarchal clan Black Sheep, and I’m born for my father’s clan, the Sleeping Rock people.”
Ti’ níléí dah’azká biláahdi hat’íí hóló “Let’s go see what’s behind that mesa.”
The 1930s were the heyday of Navajo shepherds. Most families who lived on the reservation tended to a flock. A large flock was a sign of wealth and success.
But in 1934, the federal government, as trustee, imposed a livestock-reduction policy because sheep and cattle were destroying the land through overgrazing. Navajo leaders and families fought the government, but in the end, many had their animals confiscated and sold, slaughtered or herded off canyon cliffs to their deaths.
Dine Nez was a shepherd on the high mesa of the reservation near Jones Ranch, where rolling hills of piñon, ponderosa, juniper and oak are divided by lush meadows and deep canyons. As the herds were thinned, he began to see that his son, Chester, would have to learn to make a living in the White man’s world.
He enrolled his son in a government-run school in Fort Defiance, in northeastern Arizona, far from the grazing lands of their home.
When Chester Nez reached high school in the early 1940s, educators moved some students to Tuba City Boarding School, on the far western portion of the reservation north of Flagstaff. The Department of the Army operated the school. The boys learned English in the schools and grew up far from their families. Still, while the land was vast, they knew little of the world beyond the sacred mountains that framed their home.
Since ancient times, Navajos have looked to four sacred mountains to define the boundaries of their world — Blanca Peak in Colorado, Mount Taylor in New Mexico, the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona and Hesperus Peak in Colorado. For Nez, language and life had always been defined by the images and formations of the land around him.
Then, on a spring day in 1942, U.S. Marines came to the boarding school, looking for Navajo boys.
Four months earlier, 3,000 miles away, a sky full of planes had unleashed fire on Pearl Harbor. The reservation was quiet, but the world was at war. The military, ferrying troops to battle sites across the Pacific, was urgently seeking an undecipherable code to transmit classified information. It had attempted to use various languages and dialects as code, but each was quickly cracked by cryptographers in Tokyo.
Philip Johnston, a former Army engineer and the son of Presbyterian missionaries who had lived on the Navajo reservation, proposed an idea: Try using the Navajo language. Written record of it was scarce. Its syntax and grammar were elaborate. The spoken language used tones that were difficult for an untrained ear to understand. The language might prove harder for the enemy to decipher.
So that day in 1942, the Marine recruiters in red and white uniforms with shiny buttons showed up at the school’s Old Main. They were seeking smart Navajo boys who spoke their native language and understood English. Nez longed to see life beyond the Navajo Reservation.
“I told my buddy Roy Begay, ‘Let’s go see what’s behind that mesa,’.” Nez remembered. “We said, ‘táá ako’nihíí d’odoo,‘ We agree, and we will join, too.’,”
A. Wol-la-chee. Ant. B. Shush. Bear. C. Moasi. Cat. D. Be. Deer. E. Dzeh. Elk. F. Ma-e. Fox. When school finished in 1942, a charter bus full of young Navajo men, including Nez and Begay, pulled out of Fort Wingate, east of Gallup, N.M. The bus was headed for California with enlistees on a secret mission. The men said farewell to their four sacred mountains. They left behind a simpler life on the reservation for the uncertainties of war.
Nez remembers losing his jet-black hair to a barber’s razor shortly after he arrived in San Diego for boot camp. “I touched my head. It was sleek as the canvas pants I wear,” Nez said, sliding his hand along the fabric of his pant leg.
The 29 men became the all-Navajo 382nd Marine Platoon.
Their first task was learning the military’s communication system. Next, they were asked to build a code using Navajo words. The code would have to be accurate, consistent, simple and easily memorized. One soldier suggested creating an alphabet using Navajo words, while another proposed using native words for animals, plants, neighboring tribes or weapons, according to Sally McClain, author of “Navajo Weapon.” McClain collected first-person accounts from several of the original Code Talkers. Nez said words for the code came from everyday words used on the reservation, such as lamb, nut, quiver, cross and yucca.
The men easily attached familiar words to letters to create a code alphabet.
“A.” Wol-la-chee. Ant.
“B.” Shush. Bear.
“C.” Moasi. Cat.
“D.” Be. Deer.
“E.” Dzeh. Elk.
“F.” Ma-e. Fox.
So the word “enemy,” E-N-E-M-Y, would be Dzeh — Nesh-chee — Dzeh — Na-as-tsosi — Tash-as-zih.
More challenging was devising a code to represent military equipment such as ships, airplanes or the ranks of officers. The men struggled to describe war objects they had never seen during their lives on the reservation.
“Major general.” So-na-kih. Two stars.
“Reconnaissance.” Ha-a-cidi. Inspector.
“Artillery.” Be-al-do-tso-lani. Many big guns.
Nez has long forgotten which words he suggested. “Doo bénáshniihda,” I can’t remember, he said, closing his eyes and searching his memory for answers. He does remember another challenge of creating the code. As the system took shape, each Navajo word took on a new meaning. But Navajo words carried their own significance. Using them in battle, Nez feared, would bring him harm.
Ách’ááh tsodizin A shield made of prayer
In Navajo culture, elders impress upon their children that the spoken Navajo word is potent. Words uttered in a harmful way bring harm to the speaker or his family, they say. A child growing up on the reservation in the 1930s would have understood this. Nizaad baa’ áhályá, he would be told. Be cautious of how you speak. Saad, words, carry unseen power.
Nez knew the code was meant to help confound the enemy. But that would mean using the language, his words, to bring harm. He turned to his family. The words carried unseen power, but they were also powerful enough to offer him a shield. Historically, Navajo words used by a soldier in war could be protected by a religious ritual called ách’ááh tsodizin — a shield made of prayer. Such a shield was worn by Naayéé’ Neizghání, Monster Slayer, a Navajo hero who, according to belief, killed people-eating giants. Other Navajo soldiers had prayers conducted for them by tribal medicine people on the reservation before they shipped out.
But Nez could not return to the reservation. The original 29 Code Talkers were not allowed to leave the base. Their secret code had to be protected.
At Camp Pendleton, in California, Nez packed up his Marine uniforms, his fatigues, and placed them in the mail.
Soon the package reached his father’s home on the reservation.
Dine Nez gathered up the package and had a medicine man perform a ách’ááh tsodizin over them. Then he sent the clothes back to his son.
The creation of the code was only the first part of the 382nd Marine Platoon’s orders.
Once the encryption system was written, the men would go to war. In August 1942, Chester Nez put on his uniform and boarded a ship for New Caledonia.
As he went, he said, he carried the power of the prayer shield to protect him from the harm that would be inflicted.
Anaa’í. Enemy. Nááts’ósí. Japanese. Be’eldooh alháá dildoni. Machine Gun. Nish’náájígo. Dahdikadgo. On your right flank. Diiltááh. Destroy. The men of the 382nd Platoon sent messages informing U.S. command of Japanese tactics, strategy and troop movement in battles at Iwo Jima, Peleliu and Guadalcanal. Nez and his friend Begay were part of an assault team and helped gather intelligence.
They would land on beaches, go behind battle lines and relay back information about the enemy. The group worked in pairs, carrying 30 pounds of radio equipment. Using walkie-talkies, the men sent messages in Navajo and a Navajo soldier on the other end translated. The language was familiar, but the reality of war was very far away from the reservation.
Nez shakes his head to make the vision disappear. “Tábaahjii’ nihil nida’iiz’éél, Nááts’ósí nidaaztseedgo ákóó nideeztaad. We would land on the beaches, which were littered with dead Japanese bodies,” Nez says in Navajo. “My faith told me not to walk among the dead, to stay away from the dead. But which soldier could avoid such? This was war. War is death. I walked among them.” The battles thundered with the sounds of artillery. And they were so far away from their dry Navajo lands.
“I remember sitting in the foxhole with Roy and rain poured,” Nez said.
Other groups of Navajos would eventually become Code Talkers as well. By war’s end, there were about 420 Code Talkers, and the code had expanded to more than 500 words.
But Nez’s platoon was the first.
Nez said he felt safe during the war because of the shield of prayer. He believes it is the reason he survived.
Ya’at’eeh shíye’ “Hello, my son.”
When Nez finished his military service in 1945, he jumped off the bus in Gallup, N.M., harboring a secret. Like the other Code Talkers, he had been ordered to keep silent about the Navajo code he helped create. He didn’t breathe a word about it for more than 20 years.
Unlike jubilant celebrations in metropolitan cities for returning American troops, Nez’s Navajo community of Chi Chil Tah, 23 miles southwest of Gallup, was subdued. He hitchhiked to Cousins Brothers Trading Post, and the store’s owner dropped him off near his father’s hogan. For Nez, there would be no ticker-tape welcome, just the quiet of the reservation and his father’s home. He admired his father deeply. His father had raised him and eight other siblings. Their mother had died when Nez was young. But as he returned home, he remembered his mother, too, whom he would never see again.
He reached the hogan, and his father appeared.
The man reached out and shook Nez’s hand.
“Ya’at’eeh shíye,‘.” he said.
The words mean “Hello, my son.” But in Navajo they mean much more. The message brimmed with a father’s affection, recognized a son’s place in an extended family and spoke to a trusting father-son relationship.
Six decades later, Nez’s eyes tear up when he remembers the words. “To say something like that, which is very, very close to you, is very, very moving, if not uncomfortable,” Nez said. “It’s real sad to come home and see your parent.” Soon after his son’s return, Dine Nez hired Hastiin Tsé Lichíí’ Nééz, Tall Red Rock, to perform the Enemy Way, a religious ritual meant to bring peace to a returning warrior by re-enacting a war party. It’s believed the rite cleanses a soldier of war’s taint and heads off post-war ailments. It is still practiced today for returning soldiers. When Tsé Lichíí’ Nééz repeated the final prayers during the ceremony for Nez, the grief, trauma and stress of war was bundled up, buried in the ground, and with a shot of a gun, symbolically returned to the earth. The code was included in the memories of the war that were to be forgotten.
“I felt better. … I felt I was like a new man,” Nez said. “I forgot all the things that I went through during World War II.” People inquired of his whereabouts in the Pacific, Nez said, but no one probed him about his role in the war. Shil nilí “I appreciate it.”
Nez finished high school at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., then studied fine arts at the University of Kansas.
He stayed in the Marine reserve and served in the Korean War, returning again to the reservation, where he married and raised a family. For two decades, Nez painted murals at Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center, in Albuquerque, where he retired in 1974.
Nez returned to his roots, once more, to Chi Chil Tah where he cared for a sibling and a flock of sheep. He moved in with his son’s family in Albuquerque in 1990.
More than a half-century after he was discharged from the Marines, Nez met President George W. Bush.
On July 26, 2001, Bush handed Congressional Gold Medals to five living original Navajo Code Talkers who had come to Washington, D.C. The medal is an expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. “President Bush was the nicest man I met,” Nez said. “He seemed very glad to shake hands with the Code Talkers. I thought we deserved the medal.” Only long after the Enemy Way ceremony had buried his memories would Nez share his stories. He wanted people to know what he and the others did in the war.
After all, noted his son, Michael, the story was kept a secret for so long.
It is an obvious point of pride for the former Marine.
Baa’ ahééh nisin, “I’m pleased and grateful about it,” Nez said. Shil nilí, “I appreciate it.” J’o ako téé’go nise báá “That’s my journey to war and back.”
Nez, who has had a long life with many children, is wealthy according to Navajo beliefs. The father of six children, he has nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He has outlived all but two of his children and shares a home with Michael and his family.
Today, Nez uses a wheelchair. Diabetes has claimed his legs. Time has dulled his hearing.
Nez tells his story seated in the living room of his son’s home. Behind him, the wall is covered with family portraits. The afternoon sun glows through the window.
He wears the recognizable uniform of the Code Talkers, brown pants that symbolize the earth, gold shirt for the color of corn pollen and a red cap that represents the tint of blood.
Asked how he wants to be remembered, Nez said he wants his legacy to be when his country, America, called on him. Of the 29 original Code Talkers, he’s the only one left, and he struggles to convey how he feels about being the last living symbol. Proud, patriotic, happy to be among his family.
J’o ako téé’go nise báá, “That’s my journey to war and back,” he said.
Soft evening twilight moves over the Sandia Mountains east of Michael Nez’s home. The gold in Chester Nez’s shirt deepens. The faces in the family photographs are no longer sharply defined. Darkness creeps into the living room. Nez wheels himself into the bedroom. A grandson prepares him for bed.
Mr. Nez passed earlier this year – 2014.
As a Marine in WWII Palmer and 28 other Code Talkers used their native language to transmit military messages on enemy tatics, Japanese troop movements and other battlefield informatian by telephone and radio.
He was honorably discharged in January of 1946. During his service he received the Purple Heart, 4 Bronze Star Medals and a Presidential Citation. In July of 2001 he received the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal for his service as one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers. He was a retired lineman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
According to the Naval Historical Center in Washington, the Navajo Code Talkers took part in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945 and were praised for their skill, speed and accuracy. Their work was impossible for the enemy to decode. After the war, Palmer and the others were told to keep the Navajo code a secret. Even after the information was declassified in 1968, they were reluctant to discuss it or take credit for their deeds.
Palmer, 84, Of Yuma, AZ, died on Saturday, 18 November 2006 at the VA Medical Center in Tucson. He leaves his wife, Flora Nejo Palmer; son, Kermit (Earlena); granddaughter, Cejae; brothers, Tom, Thomas (Carol), Kee (Susie), Keeteddy (Sandra), John (Zannie) and Jimmie; and sisters, Betty Slowtalker and Bessie Scott. Joe was preceded in death by his father, Judge Slowtalker and mother, Mary. He is buried at Desert Lawn Memorial Park, Yuma, AZ