The (Farmington) Daily Times
BLOOMFIELD, N.M. — He’s in the winter of his life. Time is the only thing that marches now for Navajo Code Talker David W. Tsosie, 78, of Bloomfield.
The Navajo Nation and the Marine Corps bypassed the Purple Heart-awarded World War II veteran for a Congressional Silver Medal for Navajo Code Talkers.
More than 200 Code Talkers received the medal in front of 3,000 people during a Nov. 24 ceremony in Window Rock, Ariz. Tsosie’s invitation was taken back just days before the ceremony, because his Code Talker service was unconfirmed, according to the Navajo Nation.
Recently, Tsosie said he didn’t care anymore, looking down while he sat in his wheelchair at the Bloomfield Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
Dawn Callen, an administrator at the center, told a different story. She said Tsosie’s eyes lit up when he was informed in a Navajo Nation letter dated Oct. 26 that he was going to Window Rock to receive the medal.
Then the invitation was taken back in a phone call by the Navajo Nation Nov. 19, an act Callen called abuse, considering Tsosie’s service to his country and his age.
She now wants Tsosie’s medal awarded to him in person by at least one Congressman and one Navajo Nation official.
Loraine Bigman with the Navajo Veterans Office in Shiprock, said that the Navajo Nation was not responsible for Tsosie and the others not getting their medals.
“It’s up to the Marine Corps,” she said last week.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who authored the legislation giving the medals, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on December 19. He described how he had asked the Marine Corps to investigate and verify the service records of Code Talkers.
“But, this is a daunting task even for the Marine Corps, as World War II records have proven to be incomplete or even non-existent,” Bingaman wrote.
“Adding to the problem, and due to the very nature of this sensitive operation, I understand some of these veterans may have been given military occupational specialty designations other than that of a Code Talker,” added Bingaman.
He wrote that Tsosie and four others may fall into this category and that an investigation beyond a simple records check may be justified.
“A Code Talker’s designation, duties or assignment may possibly be confirmed, for example, through interviews with other verified members of this venerable group,” Bingaman wrote.
Bingaman’s letter also asks the Marines to investigate the service records of Johnnie Alfred, Howard Nez, Thomas Singer and Enock Smith.
Tsosie has received cards and letters of support from as far away as Canada, Washington, Tennessee and Alabama.
“I didn’t even know they were thinking about me,” he said. He keeps the cards in his room.
Two fellow Code Talkers, Samuel Sandoval of Shiprock, and Wilfred Billey of Farmington, heard about Tsosie’s plight and said it was wrong that Tsosie has not received his medal.
They should know, since the three young men went to Farmington Mission High School together, volunteered for the Marine Corps together in 1943 when they heard Navajos were needed, went to boot camp together in San Diego and then went to Code Talker School in Camp Elliot and then Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Billey also produced a class picture of 60 Navajo Marines in their Code Talker class, taken before they were all shipped to the South Pacific. Billey, Sandoval and Tsosie are in the picture. Tsosie’s sister, Fannie Yazzie of Shiprock, also knows.
Yazzie has Tsosie’s Marine Corps separation document, given to him when he was honorably discharged in 1945. His military job is listed as “Radio Operator.”
All Navajo radio operators were Code Talkers, Billey said.
“If he was a radioman, he was a Code Talker, even if it doesn’t say Navajo. They were called radio men. The name Code Talker didn’t come about until 1971, when the Code Talkers Association was formed in Window Rock,” Billey added.
Tsosie doesn’t say much these days. During his first interview, he never brought up the fact that he was hit by a Japanese mortar shell on Mt. Tappichau during the battle for Saipan. In another interview, he said he had no warning of the explosion.
“Can’t hear nothing. They don’t make a sound, they just strike,” he said. “They gave me a shot and took me to the beach where they worked on me. Boy, was I sick then.”
The Marines nicknamed Saipan “Death Valley,” because of the high number of wounded and killed.
Tsosie had shrapnel in his leg and hip. When he woke up, he was on a ship going home. He later received a Purple Heart in the hospital.
Billey couldn’t understand why Tsosie was left out.
Former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald, who spent the 1990s in a federal penitentiary before having his sentence commuted by President Clinton last January, walked onto the stage and received his silver medal Nov. 24.
Billey said that MacDonald should never have received a silver medal because he disgraced the Navajo tribe.
“I’ve known Peter MacDonald all my life. He’s a good friend of mine. But all he did was go to China to bring back some prisoners after the peace. He did not see any action and they give him a medal,” he said. “Here’s Tsosie, a guy wounded at Saipan and he doesn’t get the medal. That’s what burns me.”
The (Farmington) Daily Times