There aren't many Navajo Code Talkers still living -- maybe 20 out of the more than 400 who served in the U.S. military during World War II. On Friday, two men from the Navajo Nation in Arizona visited the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth.
Peter MacDonald, Sr. was only 15 when he left home on a cold day and arrived at the gate of a recruitment office for the United States Marine Corps.
“There was a truck,” he says. “A truck driver was a sergeant. And I’m just a civilian… he says, ‘get in the truck.’ So I get into the truck, in the front seat. And he comes in, says ‘what are you doing in here?’ You told me to get in the truck. He says, ‘Get in the back.’”
That’s when he got scared.
“But when I got to the barracks,” he says. “I heard some Navajo singing. I thought I was hearing things. I went into that room, there were 20 Navajos. They were all happy and signing. And scared no more.”
'Scared No More'
Dan Akee was at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. Now, using a walker, he says it’s not easy to attend anniversaries or special events.
“They want me to go back to Iwo-Jima,” he said. “I’m not going, because my age is 93-years-old right now. I can’t walk. Got to be somebody who guide me, you know.”
He’s very proud to have served his country, he says, even as his friends and family back home were being told not to use their Navajo language in schools on reservations.
In the audience, some shed tears, listening to these two Navajo Code Talkers. Not Theophilus McLawrence. Wearing his navy blue uniform, he holds a G.I. Joe toy for MacDonald to autograph.
“Both of them, I think, they had a great personality, great sense of humor. Even in their older age. It’s awesome to see that they are in such good spirits, and such good health obviously.”
'They did resemble them'
He’s a first class petty officer in the US Navy. Another officer, James Harrison was in awe of the Navajo Code Talkers because, he says, they did look similar to the Japanese enemies.
“They did resemble them,” he says. “It was a big sacrifice for them to go into a military culture that, at the time, had a lot of racial bias towards guys that looked like them. And they put on the uniform. They put themselves out there to defend people that behind the scenes didn’t like them because of the way the looked, so I think it’s a huge deal.”
Base commander, Navy Captain Gil Miller adds: “These gentlemen helped us win the war… no kidding, these are our national treasures.”
MacDonald and Akee are both working to raise awareness, but also to fund-raise for a future national museum to honor the contributions of Navajo Code Talkers.