Wednesday, February 8, 2012

One of Last Navajo Code Talkers Dies at 88

By Felicia Fonseca

Associated Press

      PHOENIX — A Navajo Code Talker who was part of the original group recruited to develop what became an unbreakable code that confounded the Japanese during World War II has died.

    John Brown Jr. died early Wednesday morning at his home in Crystal, N.M., according to his son, Frank Brown. He was 88. 

    Several hundred Navajos served as Code Talkers during the war, but a group of 29 that included Brown developed the code based on their native language. Their role in the war wasn't declassified until 1968. 

    Brown received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2001 along with other members of the original Code Talkers. Less than a handful are still alive. 

    In an acceptance speech on behalf of the Code Talkers, Brown said he was proud that the Navajo language bestowed on them as a Holy People was used to save American lives and help defeat U.S. enemies. 

    As Code Talkers and Marines, he said they did their part to protect freedom and Democracy for the American people. 

    "It is my hope that our young people will carry on this honorable tradition as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers flow," Brown said, according to a CNN transcript. 

    Brown was born on Dec. 24, 1921, in Chinle, Ariz. He attended the Chinle boarding school and graduated from an Albuquerque high school. 

    It was during a basketball game with other Navajo boys that Brown heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were approached by Marine recruiters who told them there were a lot of pretty girls all over the world. 

    "My dad was kind of a romantic guy," Frank Brown said. 

    So the elder Brown signed up and was sent to Camp Pendleton, intent on defending the United States against the Japanese. After he arrived for training, his all-Navajo platoon was told they were there for a special mission — to devise a secret code in their native language. 

    Navajo Code Talkers used their language to transmit military messages on enemy tactics, Japanese troop movements and other battlefield information in a code the Japanese never broke. Code Talkers took part in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, according to the Naval Historical Center in Washington. 

    After the war, the Code Talkers were told to keep their work a secret. 

    The younger Brown said even after his father's role in the war was declassified, he didn't say much about it. 

    "He was just real secretive until very recently," said Frank Brown. "I've seen him do lectures. People, they wanted to hear more details, things he did in combat, but he really wouldn't come out about it."

    Keith Little, president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association and a Code Talker himself, said he often wondered who developed the code. While in training, he asked questions but only told he'd find out later. 

    "It's quite an honor to have him as one of the Navajo Code (Talkers), using the Navajo language," Little said of Brown. "Of course we all respect him for being one of the first."

    Brown met his wife, Loncie Polacca Brown, after he was discharged and the two were married in a Mormon church. 

    Brown served as a Navajo Tribal Council member representing the small community of Crystal from 1962-82 and later as the president of the community. 

    He retired about eight years ago as a traditional counselor for the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services, his son said. He also had worked as a welder, journeyman, carpenter and cabinet maker. 

    Along with his wife, Brown is survived by four children. Funeral services are tentatively set for Tuesday. 

    Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. has ordered flags flown at half-staff across the reservation beginning today. 

    "These heroes among us are now a very precious few and we, as a nation, mourn their loss," Shirley said.

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