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“Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers”

by Kenji Kawano

Thomas H. Begay and Samuel Tom Holiday were among the many Navajo soldiers who served as Code Talkers during World War II. Here, they talk about their experiences during the war.

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Navajo Enlistees, ca. 1942“Navajo Enlistees, ca. 1942,” Milton Snow (Photographer)

Thomas H. Begay, Tsi’ najinii and Ashiihi Clans, was a member of the 5th Marine Division and saw combat on Hawai`i, Enewetak Atoll, Guam, Tinian, Saipan, and Iwo Jima.

Thomas H. Begay. Tsi’ najinii and Ashiihi Clans; 5th Marine Division; Hawai’i; Enewetak Atoll; Guam; Tinian; Saipan; Iwo Jima“Thomas H. Begay. Tsi’ najinii and Ashiihi Clans; 5th Marine Division; Hawai’i; Enewetak Atoll; Guam; Tinian; Saipan; Iwo Jima,” Kenji Kawano (Photographer)

We were disciplined....I learned to survive combat. The first hour, I was with my radio, communicating with other floats. I was scared; mortars and artillery were landing everywhere, but I wasn’’t hit. The Iwo Jima sand was ashy and hard to walk on, but I had to carry my radio and other equipment across it. I was sent to replace Pfc. Paul Kinlacheeny, who was killed on the beach.

I was awarded six battle stars during my military career for being in major battles from Iwo Jima to the Korean War. I was never wounded or shot but was missed by inches, and missed being captured by thirty minutes or less. I was very lucky to have gotten through that time. Maybe because I believe in the traditional Navajo ways and felt the Great Spirit was protecting me. My parents, both very traditional Navajos, had ceremonies for me using clothes that I had worn before I left home to go in the service. These ceremonies protected my well-being, so I could survive.

Samuel Tom Holiday, Todich’ ii' nii Clan, was a member of the 4th Marine Division and saw combat on Saipan, Iwo Jima, Marshall Islands, and Tinian.

Samuel Tom Holiday. Todich’ ii’ nii Clan; 4th Marine Division; Saipan; Iwo Jima; Marshall Islands; Tinian“Samuel Tom Holiday. Todich’ ii’ nii Clan; 4th Marine Division; Saipan; Iwo Jima; Marshall Islands; Tinian,” Kenji Kawano (Photographer)

A week after landing on the shores of Saipan during World War II, a fellow Navajo code talker and I were in prone position, discussing the fact that we didn’’t have a chance if we moved. I put my helmet (on my rifle) and raised it out of the foxhole, and shots sprayed across our position, mostly from our right. The Army had taken the right flank. It was the first time these soldiers had been where actual fighting was going on and they were shooting at anything and everything.

The Japanese were on our left; the possibility of being shot by them was also very real. We stayed down, waiting. The shouts and screams of fellow soldiers were all around us, and we thought these were our last minutes on earth. Suddenly, I heard a deep ‘THUMP’ next to me, where my fellow code talker was lying, and I was scared I would be next. It took every ounce of courage I had to look over at him—. I expected blood and guts. To my relief —and the relief of my foxhole partner, —I saw one of the biggest bullfrogs I’d ever seen on my partner’s back.