Even among the heroes of the Pacific campaign in World War II, the Navajo Code Talkers stand out. With the passing of two of their number, family, friends and the Navajo Nation have taken the opportunity to remember their sacrifice and dedication to their country.
On Tuesday, Ernest Yazhe, 92, passed away in suburban Salt Lake City, The Associated Press reported. Born in Naschitti, New Mexico, Yazhe joined the Marine Corps when he was 19 years old. It wasn't long before he was thrown into pitched battle in Guam and Okinawa with a radio, transmitting messages in Navajo that absolutely stumped the Japanese code breakers.
"The Navajo language was the secret weapon that brought victory to the Allied Forces and ended the war in the Pacific," said Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation.
While in the field, Yazhe overheard Japanese soldiers talking about his language. They were frustrated and upset that, despite their best efforts, they could not understand him or his comrades.
Originally just a small group of less than 30, the Code Talkers eventually grew to number at least 440. Yazhe's older brother Harrison, who died in 2004, was also a Code Talker, and he had a younger brother who was killed in action in Italy in 1944. Fewer than 20 Code Talkers are still alive.
The passing of Alfred James Peaches last Saturday, announced by tribal officials on Wednesday, makes that figure even smaller. Peaches, born in Shonto, Arizona, served as a Code Talker in the 6th Marine Division from 1943 to 1946, according to a separate article by The Associated Press.
Ninety at the time of his death, Peaches is survived by his wife, four children and five grandchildren.
Flags across Navajo Nation will be flown at half-staff in remembrance of the men.