Online events will recognize Navajo Code Talker Day this year

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

GALLUP — Navajo Code Talker Day is Aug. 14 and, with public health orders prohibiting large gatherings due to the coronavirus, there will be opportunities on social media to honor the elite group of men.

An annual event has taken place in Window Rock, Arizona, since 2005, but the pandemic has forced organizers and officials to cancel the gathering that honors the men who used the Navajo language to transmit messages during the Pacific campaign of World War II.

Instead, the Navajo Nation Council will hold a virtual recognition event that will consist of videos and messages from dignitaries and officials that will show on the council's Facebook, Vimeo and YouTube pages.

At left, Speaker Seth Damon, Navajo Code Talker Peter MacDonald Sr., New Mexico Sen. Shannon Pinto, Navajo Code Talkers John Kinsel Sr. and Thomas H. Begay attend the Navajo Code Talker Day event on Aug. 14, 2019 in Window Rock, Arizona.

Hope MacDonald-LoneTree works with the Office of the Speaker, where she helps address veterans' issues and is among those helping coordinate the event.

"The council and the speaker felt that it's appropriate for us to honor our Code Talkers no matter what during this pandemic," she said.

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More than 400 Navajo men were recruited as Code Talkers and only four are still alive — Thomas H. Begay, John Kinsel Jr., Samuel Sandoval and Peter MacDonald Sr., who is MacDonald-LoneTree's father.

"Those are precious few. We want to make sure, as they are in their homes sheltering in place to protect their health, that they know they are in our thoughts, prayers and we value their service," she said.

Navajo Code Talker John Kinsel Sr. waits for the Navajo Code Talker Day event to start on Aug. 14, 2019 in Window Rock, Arizona.

Byron Shorty, spokesman for the legislative branch, said the program will be broadcast at scheduled times throughout Friday then will be available on the council's social media outlets.

The Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President will post a tribute video on the office's website and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, according to Jared Touchin, spokesman for the office.

Another outlet for the public to honor the Code Talkers has been organized by several descendants.

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Family members of Navajo Code Talkers Willard Oliver and Lloyd Oliver remember the brothers during the Navajo Code Talker Day parade on Aug. 14, 2019 in Window Rock, Arizona.

Michael Smith started the Navajo Code Talker Day 2020 – Virtual Ceremony page on Facebook this month.

His father was Samuel Jesse Smith Sr., who was part of the 4th Marine Division during his service in Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. Smith Sr. died in 2014.

Smith said the page is a joint effort by family members, who want to honor their loved ones and share information about the Code Talkers with the public.

The page is open to the public and it already has dozens of candid images of the Code Talkers as well as photographs of them at previous Navajo Code Talkers Day gatherings.

"There's different tributes that are coming in. A lot of families that are posting old photographs like the beginning of the Navajo Code Talkers Association. I think it's a way for us to be together without physically being together," Smith said.

He added that there will be a virtual ceremony on Friday on the page and it is sponsored by the descendants.

Details for the virtual event are on the page, Smith said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.